François Imbeau-Dulac calmly walked to the end of the diving board, jumped up and moved his body so quickly it was hard to follow the number of flips and twists he packed in before gliding into the water.
Judges know that dive as a 5156B. For the rest of us, it’s a forward facing dive of two and a half somersaults with three twists, and it comes with the highest degree of difficulty of any in the men’s 3-metre springboard preliminaries on Friday.
It’s the dive that nearly got him into the final at the London Olympics, and, at the CIBC Aquatic Centre, it was enough to put him in second place and easily qualify for Saturday’s 12-diver final.
Teammate Philippe Gagné, who started off shaky — the stress of the big event getting to him, he said — steadily worked his way from 16th up to eighth to also make the final.
For Imbeau-Dulac the nerves actually came on the last dive but few would have known it watching him.
“It was extremely nerve-racking,” the 24-year-old said.
“I haven’t competed that dive since last year,” he said. “I’m just really, really happy the whole competition was consistent, except for the third dive.”
That third dive, rated much lower in difficulty, just 3.0 compared to his final dive of 3.9, often gives him trouble but it had gone so well in practice this week he surprised himself with the miss.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Imbeau-Dulac said. “Maybe I’m trying to keep the best for tomorrow night,” he joked.
He’s known as one of the best twisters in the world, a good skill to have, especially for his hardest dive, but all the torque in those fast spins takes a toll on the body.
In 2014, a torn ligament in his hip and a back injury forced him to change his power leg in the takeoff from his right to his left. That’s a bit like suddenly throwing the ball with a different hand.
“I had a lot of issues with that,” he said.
“I did not have confidence, I was always on the board shaking. I didn’t even want to compete anymore, I just wanted to get out of the pool and run. So, it was dealing with mental issues or physical issues.”
Imbeau-Dulac knew which he preferred and he went back to the confident leg a few months ago and manages his back and hip issues as best he can with strength training and physiotherapy.
Imbeau-Dulac finished fifth in the 3-m. event at the last Pan Am Games in Mexico, but he’s hoping to move up to the medals here on home soil.
After Saturday’s 3-m. finals, the Canadian men will be back as a team in the synchronized diving competition on Monday.