Diving for gold
Canada’s Rio-bound diving squad open up about their sisterhood, struggles and poolside beauty secrets
Strength, flexibility, coordination and grace: These are just some of the skills competitive divers need to jump off a springboard and perform a range of somersaults, pikes and twists in mid-air before disappearing into the water with barely a splash. Perfecting a world-class routine worthy of the Olympics takes years of dedication and practice, something Roseline Filion, Pamela Ware, Jennifer Abel and Meaghan Benfeito understand. The seasoned divers from Quebec known as the Fab IV (the nickname has its own Twitter handle) will be wearing the maple leaf at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, representing Canada in both individual and synchronized events. Abel and Ware will compete in the women’s 3-metre springboard events, while Benfeito and Filion will dive off the vertiginous 10-metre platform.
For nearly a decade, the foursome have been training and travelling the world together for competitions. Devoted fulltime to their sport, they train intensely for up to six hours on a typical weekday. To get through that grind, they turn to each other for motivation. “It’s easier to [travel for competitions] and go to the pool every day when you have your best friends beside you,” says Abel. Filion concurs: “They’re my sisters.”
While gearing up for Rio, the athletes have signed on as brand ambassadors for Gillette Venus, a natural fit since camera close-ups come with the territory. “There are so many people watching you on the board,” says Fillion. ( It’s also easier to grab onto clean-shaven legs in tight positions like tucks, explains Benfeito.)
During a diving trials competition at the Toronto Pan Am Games Sports Centre last month, the squad took a rare time out to talk about overcoming insecurities and the long road to Rio.
ROSELINE FILION, 29
Hometown: Laval, Que.
Starting out: A two-time Olympian, Filion was a gymnast until she watched a Canadian diving performance during the 1996 Atlanta Games. “I saw Annie Pelletier from Montreal winning a bronze medal, and I told my parents I wanted to be just like her,” she says. Challenges overcome: As a teenager, Filion had a difficult relationship with food. “I was never anorexic, but I used to hate food because it would make me uncomfortable. I wasn’t eating the right things for my body,” she explains. For the past eight years, Filion has been working closely with a nutritionist. “It’s about education,” she explains. “If I fuel my body right, the machine will go fast. It was a big learning process, and now I feel really confident.”
Pool-beauty strategy: Filion loves the ease of eyelash extensions, but diving and her non-stop travel hinder upkeep. “It’s a lot to take care of when you’re away because they’re always falling off.” Constantly plunging into chlorinated water also leaves her skin dry and blotchy. “The pools are always different,” she says. “Sometimes you get to another country and you don’t even know if that’s chlorine in there. You have crocodile skin.” To help soothe it post-swim, she slathers on a good moisturizer. “There’s never enough cream!” she says.
PAMELA WARE, 23
Hometown: Greenfield Park, Que. Starting out: The youngest of the troop and a first-time Olympian, Ware started on her career path with a challenge from her father 17 years ago. “I was playing in a public pool with my sister, and my dad told us that if we did a front flip, he’d buy us a Popsicle, and if we did a back flip, he’d bring us to Dairy Queen,” she says. Ware nailed both— at six years old— and a lifeguard who witnessed the scene gave her family the number of a diving club. Challenges overcome: Today, even after years of practically living in a bathing suit, Ware still struggles with discomfort when she slips one on. “I don’t like my hips. I think that’s every female’s problem— the y don’t like something about their body,” she says. But she doesn’t let her discomfort get in the way. “Diving is my passion. I’m always going to go for what I love, so I put on a bathing suit every day.” Pool-beauty strategy: To protect her fine hair from the effects of chlorine, Ware has embraced the swim cap, shampoos only every two to three days and rinses her hair right after swimming. “My hair stopped growing at one point so I’ve been wearing the cap for a year now,” she says. “My natural oils came back, my hair is a lot healthier, and it started growing again.”
JENNIFER ABEL, 24
Starting out: Abel started diving at the age of four, following in her brother’s footsteps. “I was doing synchronized swimming but wanted to be exactly like my brother,” she explains. “I asked my parents to put me into diving and they did.” At 16, Abel burst onto the international scene at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, becoming one of the youngest Canadian divers to compete on the world stage.
Challenges overcome: Described as the girlie-girl of the group by her teammates, Abel has struggled with her textured hair. She previously used chemical straighteners to smooth out her kinks, but after experiencing major hair damage, she chopped it off in 2014 and started from scratch. “I cried so much. It’s very hard,” she says, explaining that she’s working on the self-confidence to let her curls go free. “I’m just not there yet. It’s not long enough, so I always have my hair tie.” To help it get to a happy length, Abel has adopted a breakage-reducing regimen. “I started wearing my bathing cap because I want it to grow healthier and faster, and I have a silk pillowcase.”
Pool-beauty strategy: Chlorine leaves Abel’s dark skin ashy and lips parched, so a standby moisturizer and lip balm are key. As part of her natural hair routine, Abel works a shea butter pomade into her hair after a shower at the pool, combs it through, then puts her hair up.
“I saw Annie Pelletier from Montreal winning a bronze medal, and I told my parents I wanted to be just like her.”
MEAGHAN BENFEITO, 27
Starting out: Originally a competitive swimmer, Benfeito started diving at the age of seven after she got hooked on the excitement of flying through the air. “In the last five minutes of every swim practice they would bring us to the diving boards. The adrenaline felt really cool,” she says. Benfeito was also captivated watching now-retired Olympians Alexander Despatie and Émilie Heymans, who trained at the same pool. Challenges overcome: Benfeito has had a rough season, leading to self-doubt about her abilities. Luckily, a pep talk from an exec at Diving Canada helped her rebound and unlock the door to Rio. “The fact that he believed in me and came to talk to me completely turned the switch back on,” she says. “Usually when the boss comes and speaks to you, it’s a problem. But at that moment, I was like, ‘Okay. I got this!’”
Pool-beauty strategy: On competition day, Benfeito never hits the diving platform without a Shellac pedicure (regular polish doesn’t hold up against the water’s impact) because cameras are always zooming in on her feet. “I have my own machine at home!” she says.
“The fact that [an exec at Diving Canada] believed in me and came to talk to me completely turned the switch back on. Usually when the boss comes and speaks to you, it’s a problem. But at that moment, I was like, ‘Okay, I got this!’”
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