Interview Print edition

The Olympics start today in Rio – last year we met Canadian diver Vincent Riendeau as he was prepping for this very moment.

Below is the interview from HERO 13

The future of Canadian diving seized bronze at 2014’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and then completed 2015’s hefty FINA World Series, diving in six countries over twelve weeks. Each destination marked one step closer to Rio’s Olympics starting today; his scores were cumulatively added to secure his place on the hallowed 10 metre Olympic platform. At home in the small leafy suburb of Pointe-Clare in Quebec, Vincent Riendeau relentlessly honed every inch of technique, hammering dive after dive in search of perfect execution.

Canadian Olympic diver Vincent Riendeau

Fabien Kruszelnicki So when did you first start diving?
Vincent Riendeau When I was five, so in 2001. I was actually in gymnastics when I was four or five, just for fun I guess, I had a lot of energy when I was a kid. My neighbour was a diver, she dove at Pointe-Claire which is the pool I dive at right now. So she talked to my parents, she recruited me and then I started getting into it – there were a couple of things you had to do to make the team, like tryouts, but from the moment I started I loved it, the people there were fun, the coaches were fun.

James West: Do your coaches change a lot? The coaches you’re training with today [at the Olympic stadium], have you been with them for a while?
VR: The coaches I’m with right now, two of them are from CAMO [diving club] and then Arturo [Miranda] is with Diving Canada, so he’s not with Pointe-Claire. The coach I have on paper is Yihua Li, she’s the head coach at Pointe-Claire. I had three different coaches there, Luc Filion for three years, then I had Dave Bédard for three years, and then since then I’ve been with Yihua for four or five years.

Canadian Olympic diver Vincent Riendeau

FK: How much do you practice when you first start, if you’re only five?
VR: You do less than I do now [laughs]. I started off doing two days a week I think, Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. So a bit less intense. Then a year after that I think I did three days a week, and then after three years I did five days, Monday to Friday.

JW: And you’ve been doing five days a week since then?
VR Well now we do five days a week in the water, and then we do weight training also on Saturdays. So six days training total. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday we do two practices in the water, so I’ll be here all day at the pool. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we do weights in the morning and we train in the pool. Then Saturdays only weight training. I think when I switched to my second coach that’s when I started doing more competitions. I was still young, like I think I was eight or nine, so I started doing nationals and eventually internationals.

FK: How did you balance it with school?
VR: It’s always been a little bit hard, especially with competitions. You really have to go talk to your teachers and get them to try and help you, get them to give you the information you’re going to miss while you’re away and maybe postpone some exams. Throughout high school actually I was at a school that had a sports aid program for athletes that are high level.

FK: That’s handy.
VR: Yeah, so they allow you to miss school for training time if it conflicts.

JW: So from the outside there are the big contests: the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games. But it sounds like there are competitions going on all the time? How many are there a year?
VR: It really depends, some years are busier than others. But I guess this year and the last year I’ve done a lot more international competitions. For the past two years I guess for me it changed a lot, I did more grand prix. There are two different kinds of series in a year, the grand prix which are a bit lower level, and then at the end of the year there are ‘Worlds’, so one year out of two is going to be the World Cup, and then the next year it’s going to be World Championships. Then they take the top eight from the Worlds the previous year and put them in the World Series, which is a series of six competitions in six different countries. And of course we still have our nationals twice a year [in Canada].

Canadian Olympic diver Vincent Riendeau

FK: So have you taken part in the World Series yet?
VR: I’ve only done one, in Windsor in Canada, Ontario last year. The reason why I’m allowed to compete in them this year is because Canada is hosting one in winter, so we’re allowed one person or team in each diving event. None of the guys qualified so they got to choose someone to participate in them. So I’m doing them 10 metre and then 10 metre synchro with Philippe Gagne. As for the world series there are two next week, one in China and then in Dubai. I’m going to all six this time, it’s two weeks on and two weeks off until May.

JW: So how do you deal with all that travel? It must be knackering.
VR: You get used to it after a couple of years, you definitely have to get used to the time change quickly because we’re only there for a week. Next week it’s China and it’s a twelve hour time difference so you have to prepare yourself before you go there, you start going to bed a bit earlier, waking up a bit earlier. Then when you arrive it’s a bit easier mentally and physically, you’re definitely going to be more tired when you get there, and you have to practice straight away. That’s the hardest part.

JW: And an eighteen-hour flight is pretty grueling.
VR: It does tire you, we wear compression socks because you get swollen when you’re in an airplane too long, so when you arrive and you have to start training, your legs aren’t slow. You still have that quickness in your muscles. But traveling and school is hard, you need internet. When you don’t have internet it’s a lot harder to get in touch with your teachers and see what you’re going to miss. Most of our classes are online, but of course you have to find the motivation to do it.

 

JW: I guess there’s quite a lot of self-discipline.
VR: Exactly, especially when me and Phil are the only two studying this year, the other girls are a bit older and they decided to stop school until they retire from diving and then they’re going to continue their studies.

JW: You could say that diving’s quite repetitive, what is it that makes you want to keep doing it over and over?
VR: Perfection. A lot of people that you meet in this sport are perfectionists and for sure you get tired of doing the same thing, but the fact that you want to make your dive perfect makes you want to continue, you practice it even more. The adrenaline you get when you jump off the board, and especially when you do a good dive, when it’s a hard dive and you’ve done it well, when you’re in the water and you feel it, you know exactly how it went down, you know it was a good dive especially in competition.

JW Do you feel like you’ve ever achieved perfection?
VR: Well of course it’s a sport that’s judged, so it’s relative to their appreciation of your dive. But in a provincial I got straight 10s on a dive [laughs]. As for a perfect dive you can’t necessarily say anything’s perfect, but you try to it the best you can.

Canadian Olympic diver Vincent Riendeau

JW: Is it quite a friendly sport or is there a lot of competition when you go to different countries?
VR: Surprisingly this sport is a lot friendlier than others. Just because we all know that although we’re competing against others, ultimately we’re competing against ourselves. You have to do the best you can and nobody else is going to change your performance, so a lot of people that you meet are friendly and we stay in touch. Our coach is really good friends with the Italians, so sometimes they come train here.

FK: Have you been anywhere else to train?
VR: Not out of the country, but I’ve been to Toronto to train with one of my buddies before competition, but never a couple of months elsewhere.

FK: What do you do when the season finishes? Do you carry on practicing?
VR: Yeah, if we’re lucky we get a couple of weeks off [laughs]. After Commonwealths we had three weeks off, so that felt really good.

JW: Do you just let go and eat burgers?
VR: Well you try and not each too much junk and stay in shape so it’s not too hard when you get back. But for sure, you relax, you do all you can to get away from it a little bit and free your mind. But then we get back into it pretty quickly, last year it was faster than usual because we had a competition in Mexico, we started a week before that training and got straight into the competition.

JW: So how do they choose who’s going to be part of the Olympics? Because that’s coming up next year.
VR: It’s quite a long process. This year we have our nationals, one in February and one in May. So they take our best scores from those two and a grand prix that’s held in Gatineau called Canada Cup. So they take our scores and accumulate it, and then the two athletes that have the best scores in the end are qualified for the Worlds, which are in Russia this year. And in the Worlds this year and next is where you qualify your country for the Olympics. So this year it’s top twelve for individual and top six or eight for synchro. So if you come top twelve at the world championships in Russia, then you open a spot for your country. If two of you from the same country qualify in the finals then your country has two spots, and two is the most you can have in an event. Then also the next year in February there’s the World Cup in Rio, they always hold it at the same pool that’s going to be used for the Olympics.

JW: So you can get a bit of a taste for the pool?
VR: Exactly. So in Rio the top eighteen can qualify your country, so you get two chances to qualify. After that, you can qualify yourself at the nationals in May.

JW: It sounds pretty complicated, how do you keep track of it, does someone manage all of this for you? Keeping track and all the travel?
VR: Well Diving Canada does a big part of it for us, they do all the tickets and send us our itinerary and then we just go. They keep track of the scores too, and they are the ones who add it together at the end. So it is quite complicated, it’s two years of straight up competitions that add up to the Olympics. But you only know if you’ve qualified five months before the Olympics.

JW: What month are they in?
VR: In September. It’s going to be cold in Brazil. The Olympic team, the girls that I train with, went in September to see the pool and practice a little bit and they said that it was quite windy and quite cold because it’s the end of their winter there. When it’s windy and you’re wet your muscles tense up and it’s harder to dive.

Canadian Olympic diver Vincent Riendeau

JW: So what is the normal length for a diving career?
VR Depends, a lot of people end about 27 years old, that’s the average if you have a good career. A lot of people will end before if they have an injury or they want to do something else, go to school or get a job. Some people go past 30, like Émilie Heymans is a Canadian diver who won four Olympic medals in four different Olympics. That’s sixteen years right there from the first Olympics to the last one. As for me I’m not sure, I’m aiming for 2016 and 2020, and then for school there are different opportunities, you can get scholarships in the States especially that are really good. They offer you a scholarship and if it’s all paid for then it’s perfect.

FK: Would that mean you’d be on the American team?
VR: You’d still be on the Canadian team, but you’d be competing for the school in the University games, the NCAA’s. So you’d be competing with them but you’d still be diving for Canada if you qualify for the Olympics. Riley McCormick did that, he went to the Olympics in London and Beijing, he went to Arizona for four years and he was still diving for Canada. But you can’t wait too long for starting your life, 30 is a bit late to go back to studies or start a business. So I’m going to try and figure out what I’m going to do after 2016 and then organise my studies. If I quality for 2020 and my body’s holding up [laughs] and everything’s going well maybe I’ll continue onto 2024, maybe I’ll stop after that and just go start a career.

JW: How does it work financially? Are there prizes for the different competitions? Otherwise all the travel must be quite expensive.
VR: We don’t pay for it actually, Diving Canada pays for it because we get some money from them. But for prizes, World Series do give money for top three in each competition, and then there’s a prize at the end if you’ve done all six, then the top six overall will also get a certain amount of money. There’s not many competitions that do offer money, mostly if you win a competition your country will pay for it, if your country sponsors that kind of thing. Canada doesn’t necessarily offer money for a medal. I think if you win at the Olympics it’s $50,000, while in other countries they get a lot more for different events. Like in the Pan American games, let’s say in Mexico, they would get a pretty good amount of money for just winning third place or second place. It just comes down to the country.

JW: So whose diving career do you look up to?
VR: Definitely when I started Alex Despatie was one that I think everybody looked up to, from the age of thirteen he won the Commonwealth Games. And from there on he kept going, he kept getting better and better. He was the first one to win all three, ten metre, three metre and one metre at the world championships. He got silver medals at the Olympics… so he was definitely one of my idols when I was coming up. Now that he’s not there anymore you try to look to other people who are better than you, to improve. The Chinese are definitely one of the best in the world and we always look up to them for their technique, their perseverance too – they train really hard. They train a lot more than us.

JW: You’re already training every day, pretty much though?
VR: They have longer training sessions, they have a program that’s a lot more specific for each individual in the team. There are also a lot more competitions, one of the things with sport is that when you have competitions it pushes you to better your own performance. That’s one of the good things about going out for the Worlds, you get to see a lot and watch a lot, you get to learn visually.

FK: So do you have any brothers and sisters?
VR: I have one brother and one sister, both older. My sister’s 23, my brother’s 21.

FK: What were your parents like when you started diving?
VR: My parents have always been supportive, they were never the type of parents that were there at every practice or always behind me and telling me to go, but they were always supportive of my sport, which is a good thing for parents of an athlete – to not necessarily tell the athlete what to do, because they know that the coach knows best, and that they don’t necessarily know everything about the sport. So they let me do my stuff, they let the coach do their job, but they’re always there supporting me and they’re always there listening if there’s problems.

FK: Do you find competitions stressful?
VR: Yeah, but you learn to deal with it. You learn to use it to your advantage because at a certain level stress is good, it gives you a bit more energy. But after ten or twelve years now you get used to it, if it’s new, like last year the Worlds and Commonwealth too were my first then it’s a bit more stressful.

FK: Do you have to eat specific things to stay in shape?
VR: I don’t necessarily have a diet, but for sure you have to watch what you eat, you don’t eat too much fatty food, you eat a bit of carbs before a competition but not too much. Or you don’t eat too much fibre before training, just those kinds of things that help your body activate better.

FK: Do you learn about nutrition then?
VR Yes when we were younger we did a nutrition course with Plongeon Québec (Diving Québec), it helped us get an idea of how to organise our diets, how we eat, for different types of training, competition or days off. But ultimately we are on our own to decide what we eat.

FK: When you’re on the board about to dive, what do you think about?
VR: In practice you try to think about the correction [to the previous dive], the goal ultimately is not to have to think about anything at all and just let muscle memory do it. During competition you’ve got to let your body do it and trust yourself. If there’s a certain thing that you’ve been working on then you think about that but you’ve got to remain calm. The important thing in competitions is to clear your mind of any negative thoughts. You try to keep a clear mind and do your dive like you know you can.