Canada’s Meaghan Benfeito was the first diver on the list for the women’s 10-metre competition at the Pan Am Games and when she was introduced on the pool deck, the roar of the near capacity crowd — on Friday afternoon, for preliminaries — was deafening.
“We’re not used to it being so loud,” Benfeito said.
This is an Olympic veteran, with a bronze medal in synchronized diving to prove it, and a regular on the podium at top global events. But she hasn’t competed at an event where just her name sent such a large crowd into thunderous applause since 2005. And the 26-year-old was too young to know any better then.
“As soon as we walked out they all started screaming, I looked back at Rosie, like ‘Oh my God, this is really happening,’” Benfeito said, referring to fellow Canadian diver Roseline Filion.
“It felt absolutely amazing to see that people appreciate diving,” said Benfeito, whose biggest competitions have all been international ones, where other divers enjoy sweetheart status with the crowd.
“They even appreciate bad dives, which is really absolutely amazing,” she said, smiling. “But you don’t want to do bad dives.”
Benfeito did have one of those and finished fourth in the preliminaries, while Filion’s consistently strong diving placed her first.
Given there were only eight divers — two Cubans dropped out at the last minute and the Pan Am nations, in general, aren’t very big in the women’s 10-metre discipline — all divers advance to Saturday’s final.
“Preliminaries were the place to break the ice,” Filion said. “Get to know the environment, feel comfortable, do my dives and get ready for tomorrow.”
Medal expectations are high for both these divers and they know it.
Benfeito, Filion and three-metre springboard divers Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware have been dubbed Canada’s Fab IV. They won 36 international medals last season and have long been expected to be stars at the Pan Ams, then medal contenders next summer in Rio.
Much of their success has come in the synchro event but both Filion and Benfeito have won individual 10-metre medals on the world series of diving and are ranked second and third respectively.
Since they are diving here without the dominant Chinese to contend, with a podium finish seems a likely outcome, but the Canadian divers were leaving such predictions to others.
“Obviously there aren’t the Chinese in the Pan Ams but we can’t underestimate the other athletes,” Filion said. “At big Games, you don’t know what can happen.”
The women’s 10-metre field may not be as deep as they’re used to, but Paola Espinosa and Alejandra Orozco, the two Mexican divers who won the Olympic silver medal in 10-metre synchro in London, just ahead of the Canadians who took bronze, are here. Espinosa finished just behind Filion in the preliminaries.
“The Mexicans are really strong, the Brazilians have a bigger team now, and you just can’t go in there thinking that you’re above everybody else,” Filion said.
Certainly, though, some of their biggest competition in the Saturday evening final will come from each other.
That battle could go either way, depending who is on their game that day, said Diving Canada technical director Mitch Geller.
In May, Benfeito won the world series event in Kazan, Russia, and the next week, in London, Filion won. Benfeito has the higher scoring potential — she is capable of getting nines on all her dives — but Filion is the more consistent diver, Geller said.
Right after her fifth and final dive, where she won the preliminary round, Filion got out of the water, blew a kiss to the crowd and then went over to her coach to hash out what she could do better next time.
“It was really feedback about the entire event and telling me little things that I need to do tomorrow,” she said.
At this level, every little thing counts.
Benfeito knows that, too.
“I’ll just try to give everything I’ve got tomorrow because obviously we want to hear the national anthem,” she said.