Rosie DiManno: Have we seen Jennifer Abel’s last dive? Canadian slips to eighth in 3-metre springboard at Tokyo Olympics
|Toronto Star 01 Aug 2021 at 12:21|
Jennifer Abel. And, as diving honcho Mitch Geller poignantly observed of Canada’s long-time diving divinity, ’round about 4:30 p.m. Sunday: “I believe that we just saw her last dive.’’
Maybe off a cottage dock or local pool in Montreal, the three-metre springboard virtuoso will, on occasion, continue to awe spectators — family, friends and kids on the block — with her diving mastery. Or just cannonball it after a near lifetime of pursuing perfectionism, as an individual and synchro crème de la crème competitor, where every muscle twitch and misplaced toe can make a points difference.
If this was Abel’s swan song, stamp it with a patina of remembrance and retrospection.
“Unless I hear different, she finished her career with a double twisting 2 ½ and it’s a big dive,’’ commended Geller. “There’s not that many women in the world doing it.’’
Last of Abel’s five dives, that whip-around manoeuvre, all corked arms and hand to the head as the neck strains and legs jackknifed to the chest and feet pointed taut and palms cracking the surface of the water. A dive with a 3.4 degree of difficulty; no woman in the final tried anything harder and only one matched it.
But, at 61.20, there must have been details not visible to the untrained eye because Abel wasn’t plentifully rewarded, just a better than average score and total points of 297.45, where gold for China’s Shi Tingmao came off a gobsmacking 383.50 performance.
And still, emerging from the pool after exhaling a feather of bubbles, Abel smiled widely and blew kisses to … well, the imaginary fans.
“There’s a mix of emotions. There’s more happiness and satisfaction than sadness.’’
Because, though finishing eighth when she had been sitting third, it was a moment to reflect upon a career and contemplate a life.
“Yes, it is,’’ the 29-year-old agreed. “Because I remember four years ago, I was sort of ashamed of my fourth place. And now I finished eighth.’’
She laughed at the absurdity of it.
“If I’d been eighth four years ago’’ — she means five years ago, Rio — “I would have been even harder on myself.’’ As it was, it would take a year to recover from the disappointment of no medal for Abel last time, in neither individual nor synchro, many months of ‘’dark thoughts,’’ convinced she’d lost her passion for the sport; couldn’t find it until the 2017 world championships rolled around.
“When you’re able to see the whole picture, your whole career …’’ she started to say on Sunday. “…that was my fourth Olympic Games, that was my third Olympic finals. The first, I missed (finals) when I was 16 by one place. So when you look at the bigger picture, everybody would dream to be here, everybody would love to have a medal opportunity, or just being able to finish with a smile even though I missed, and I think that’s the beauty of sport.’
The 29-year-old is coming home from Tokyo with Olympic bling, of course — silver, earned with partner Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu in synchro three-metre springboard. Copped bronze in that event with former partner Emilie Heymans in London, 2012. She’d made no secret, however, of her yearning for an individual medal.
Not to be. As that Olympic ideation of a medal and a podium is not to be for nearly every athlete who came to Tokyo, whether as a favourite or on a wing and a prayer.
Abel, though, had reason to like her medalling chances, in third place coming out of the semifinal, bettered only by a brace of Chinese women who never lose and hardly ever screw up.
But Abel, following a strong second dive, forward 3 ½ somersaults, score of 69.75, her highest on the afternoon, had a disastrous third round, scoring a mere 39.00 on the reverse 2 ½ somersaults, a dive that historically been her nemesis. And she’d appeared to have solved it.
“It was almost too technically correct, coming off the board,’’ explained Geller. “She had a very good takeoff. The problem is, she doesn’t get a good takeoff consistently (on that dive). She’s usually working on some corrections as she goes where she’s more comfortable. So when she took with what we would consider almost ideal circumstances, she just wasn’t prepared for the timing of the whole thing.’’
A baffling inside-out conundrum, we must say.
“She doesn’t get enough reps with that kind of quality,’’ Geller continued. Never recovered from that dive, which dropped Abel from third to ninth. “That made the difference. It sort of changed the whole dynamic for her.’’
Thing is, the Chinese weren’t actually that otherworldly dominant on this day. At least Wang Han, some 35 points off her compatriot’s pace for silver, with Krysta Palmer of the U.S. rising for a bronze. China has now won 19 consecutive gold medals in this event.
There had been room there for Abel to wrangle silver before it all went pear-shaped.
“It’s the moment, right?’’ suggested Geller. “It all comes down to this. We’re talking about managing all kind of micro movements and sort of shutting out all the what-ifs. So, obviously, they didn’t all get shut out.’’
He paid tribute to Abel’s legacy, though.
“Somebody as prolific as she’s been and respected worldwide for her athleticism, for her drive, for her competitiveness and her results.
“I think she’s looking to see what’s next for her in her life.’’
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