The Road to Paris 2024 starts at Winter Nationals
The competitive diving season in Canada kicks off this weekend with the 2022 Winter Senior National Championships in Saskatoon, SK, and fans will notice new names and faces at the top of the results board at this event and others following the retirements of some of Canada’s “old guard”.
Triple Olympic bronze medallist Meaghan Benfeito just announced her retirement this week, as did two-time Olympic medallist Jennifer Abel in November last year. On the men’s side, two-time Olympian Vincent Riendeau and Rio 2016 Olympian Philippe Gagné have also retired, while London 2012 Olympian François Imbeau-Dulac is currently making his transition from springboard to high-diving. Their departure leaves the stage open for new athletes to make their mark on the sport.
With a reduced timeline to the next Summer Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 due to the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympic Games, Diving Canada’s Chief Technical Officer Mitch Geller is keenly aware of the clock ticking towards Paris.
“What’s most important to us this year is establishing a foundation that we can work from as we start going forward to Paris. So, this year, training is being prioritized over competition,” says Geller. “We know that we need more strength and power from our younger divers that are taking over the mantle, certainly in men’s platform, and so we have to give them the time to do that without the pressures of peaking for competition.”
With that focus on strength development and technical development for his young team, Geller cites the Commonwealth Games this summer in Birmingham, UK as happening at the ideal time for when he expects the team to be closest to delivering peak performances – not the World Championships, set to take place in Budapest, Hungary at the end of June.
“World Championships were postponed so that has actually given us some breathing room which is good. It’s not an ideal competitive year, so we’re thinking of the Worlds as a secondary competition – which is odd because it’s such a prestigious event, but that’s the way we’re treating it.”
With that outlook for the year, this weekend’s Winter Nationals will somewhat set the stage for the year ahead. The athletes that will compete in the FINA Diving Grand Prix – Canada Cup (June 9-12, Calgary, AB) will be selected, as will the long list of athletes for the World Championships. The final selection for the World Championships and Commonwealth Games will happen at the Summer Nationals, happening at the end of May in Victoria, BC.
Here are some of the divers to watch this year according to Geller:
Two-time Olympian Pamela Ware (29, CAMO) will be leading the way on women’s springboard, strong from 12 years of experience on the senior international scene. “I think that she can challenge for any colour medal at any level of competition. She absolutely has medal potential for 2024. She’s an outstanding diver,” said Geller.
Margo Erlam (19, Saskatoon), who won a bronze medal at the last Winter Nationals, and Mia Vallée (21, CAMO), who just won a gold medal on 1m at the NCAA Championships, will also be strong contenders, just like Katelyn Fung (17, Forest City). “Katelyn is one of the younger divers, but she is somebody that’s good on both platform and springboard and springboard is looking to be something that might even turn into her forte – she’s very, very strong, and very quick.”
Tokyo 2020 silver medallist Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu is currently recovering from an injury and could be sidelined for the remainder of the year. “I still think she has time to do what she needs to – she doesn’t need a lot more strength. She’s honing technique, and getting more precise in her movements and those are the things that will propel her to the level of the others as well.”
With the retirement of three-time Olympic medallist Meaghan Benfeito, Tokyo 2020 Olympians Celina Toth (30, Boardworks) and Caeli McKay (22, Pointe-Claire) are now the veterans on platform.
“Caeli only had one quad to become this veteran, but she gets that title because she has acquired quite a lot of competitive experience at this point,” said Mitch Geller “She’s driven, and she’s as talented as anybody in the world. But she is still dealing with the injury that she sustained before the Olympic trials and isn’t back fully yet.”
Celina Toth, who’s been competing on the senior international scene since 2010 and who just spent the winter coaching and studying in South Carolina, has decided to keep training for Paris. “Her performance at the Olympics was not up to par. We really thought that based on her practices in Paris, she looked like she could have been a medal contender there, so I’m sure she wants to see that come to fruition in terms of diving at her full peak and performing to her potential at the international level.”
With the two of them missing this week’s nationals in Saskatoon, many younger divers will be vying for the top of the podium.
Amongst them are Katelyn Fung, Kate Miller (17, Nepean-Ottawa) and Elaena Dick (23, Toronto Diving Academy). “I mentioned Katelyn on springboard – she’s also exceptionally talented on platform,” said Geller. “She and Kate Miller are both very, very good and I expect one of them will be joining Caeli in synchro. We also have Elaena Dick who has been kind of out of action with some health issues over the last few seasons, but we think she’s gotten a really good handle on that and if she can stabilize, I think she’s also going to be a contender for our top spots.”
Going into Paris, Tokyo 2020 Olympian Cédric Fofana (18, CAMO) and 2021 World Cup semi-finalist Thomas Ciprick (19, Pointe-Claire) will have the opportunity to keep building their experience on the senior international scene.
“I think Thomas is one of the most powerful guys out there and I think that in the long run, he definitely can contend with the top guys in the world. He has a beautiful, elegant style that is unique in the world. Thomas seems to be able to blend some of the elegance that was present in the sport some years ago with the power to do unbelievably difficult dives. And so I think he is really, really something to watch,” said Mitch Geller.
“Cédric can jump higher than just about anyone on the planet. His potential is up there with Thomas. He is incredibly talented and with consistent focus, consistent training, and good technique, there’s really no limit to what he’s capable of.”
Just like Caeli Mckay, Tokyo 2020 Olympians Nathan Zsombor-Murray (18, Pointe-Claire) Rylan Wiens (20, Saskatoon) are quickly becoming veterans in this event.
“Nathan did an outstanding job at the Olympics. He’s one of those athletes that really just needs to add strength and power to be able to increase his degree of difficulty. Rylan is on equal footing with Nathan, but he’s not as internationally experienced. We’re putting both these guys down as medal potentials.
Many talents have also been emerging over the past quadrennial, such as Laurent Gosselin-Paradis (21, CAMO), Benjamin Tessier (17, CAMO) and Matt Cullen (16, L’Envol).
“Benjamin’s list isn’t quite as difficult at this point as Rylan or Nathan’s, but his consistency, and his accuracy, and his ability to get max judge awards is there. He’s just a really beautiful diver that is just now entering the senior level. His aerial sense, and consistency is really quite impressive.”
“Matt is right there with Benjamin. They were our top two age group divers last year and are now moving into senior. They’re doing great.”
Laurent Gosselin-Paradis is also to be watched. “Laurent looks to have the capability of doing some very tough dives. He’s adding some degree of difficulty where others are sort of struggling. We’ll see what he can bring to the game.”
The 2022 Winter Senior National Championships are being held at the Shaw Centre in Saskatoon from April 8-10, and will feature 40 divers competing in 1-metre, 3-metre, and 10-metre. Live results will be available through www.diving.ca and a web broadcast will be available through CBC Sports.
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