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Saturday, September 30, 2000
Despatie arrives early

 SYDNEY -- This wasn't supposed to be Alexandre Despatie's time.

 C'mon. The precocious 15-year-old diver from Laval, Que., was used to stunning results inspite of his youth, but this was, afterall, the Olympics.

 This was a final. Maybe in four years time...

 But Despatie took another giant step forward in his young diving career with a fourth-place finish in the men's 10-metre competition at the International

 Aquatic Centre Saturday night. He actually held down third place halfway through the six-dive competition.

 What would he have said if he was told he'd be fourth at the Olympics?

 "Thank you," he said. "I'm fourth and there's more Games to come. I'm happy with fourth right now. I don't think I could have done better."

 A night of sensational diving was capped by Chinese divers Liang Tian and Jia Hu taking the gold and silver medals respectively and Russian Dmitri Saoutine, Despatie's idol, edging out the prodigy for the bronze.

 Despatie totaled an impressive 652.35 points, 72.18 behind the winner and just 26.91 behind Saoutine.

 He showed he could compete with the best.

 "Tonight he became a man," said Michel Larouche, Despatie's coach. "You need to have nerve to compete against those guys and he showed he's got what it takes. He did an amazing job. I knew today was going to be his day. I knew he was going to explode and he did it."

 It has been a tumultuous year for Despatie, who first rose to prominence by winning the gold medal at the Commonwealth Games as a 13-year-old two years ago.

 He underwent a growth spurt, which affected his balance and co-ordination, important for any athlete, but particularly so for a diver. Controlling rotation and body position are critical.

 But the most important growth for him has been as a person, said Larouche.

 "He's gained a lot of maturity," he said. "He's going to be able to handle all this better. Now he knows he can be one of the best in the world. He was following them closely up to dives from the end."

 Larouche said he thinks Despatie could be on a par with the powerhouse Chinese within 18 months.

 After qualifying for the final in eighth place, Despatie moved up to fourth when he scored 79.68 points for his first dive of the night, an inward 3-1/2 somersault in the tuck position.

 He held that position through the second round with an 80.19 score for a back 3-1/2 somersault in the tuck position and that score was the third best of the round.

 He put himself in solid medal contention when he moved up to third place after round three with a score of 87.72 - the second-best score of the round - for a reverse 3-1/2 somersault in the tuck position. The dive carried a degree of difficulty of 3.4, Despatie's toughest of the night.

 He faltered in round four when his armstand back triple somersault in a tuck netted him only 63.36 points, the ninth-best dive of the 11 competitors, and he slipped back into fourth place behind Saoutine and never could catch him.

 "He's not getting those nine , 9-1/2 scores. He needs to clean up a little more," said Mitch Geller, Canada's national team head coach. "He's not that far off. This sets him up well for the next four years. He's a class act."

 Despatie said he knows what he has to do to make the final move. "I have to be a little more elegant," he said. "More pretty in the air...that's something I have to work on."

 But before he does that, there will be some time to be a 15-year-old.

 "I'm going home, lay down on my bed and watch TV," he said. "Now it's time to slack off and be fat."

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