Alexandre Despatie ‘was scalped’ when his head struck diving board, according to mother

The injury diver Alexandre Despatie suffered in June when he struck his head on a diving board was much worse than officials originally let on.

"A major injury, a lot more than what has been written,'' Despatie's mother Christiane told the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno. "We didn't want to say much at the time. So we just said that it was 10 centimetres. Actually he was scalped.''

The accident happened on June 12 while Despatie was training for a competition in Madrid, Spain. At the time Diving Canada said the two-time Olympic silver medallist needed surgery to close a 10-centimetre cut. Despatie later admitted he had suffered "a small concussion.''

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Christiane was in Montreal when she learned of her son's accident by text message. Later diving coach Arturo Miranda called.

"Arturo was trying to tell me something but it wasn't coming out right,'' Christiane said. " I couldn't understand at first. Then he said, 'Well, it's the head.' I asked: 'What's the damage?'

"I never even thought of asking, is he alive? It was a while before I was able to get some sense out of (Arturo). He said it was a huge cut but, Alexandre was lucky because it was on the hairline."

Despatie underwent emergency surgery in Spain. He won't let his mother, who is the daughter of a doctor, look at photographs taken during the procedure.

"He told me that he would never, in my life as a mom, show me these pictures — because they opened his head, from one side to the other,'' Christiane said.

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The accident occurred when Despatie was attempting an inward 3 1/2 tuck on the springboard. The dive requires a person to stand backwards at the end of the board, then spin forward with high velocity.

Christiane wanted to fly to Spain but was urged against it. Her son withheld most of the worrisome details from his parents.

"He didn't want us knowing the truth,'' she said. "Finally I got the truth from someone else.''

At the time officials said Despatie would probably be out of the pool for about two weeks but could miss only one week of training. The severity of the injury was downplayed and Despatie was kept out of the public eye while recovering.

"When he came home, we tried to make life easier for him and kept him away from the media," said Christiane.

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"He had to stay calm. He couldn't listen to music. He couldn't even watch a movie. He had to stay in a dark room."

Despatie missed two Grand Prix events in Europe while recovering. On Friday he took his first practise dives at the Olympic pool.

"He followed the doctor's return protocol closely, by the word," Christiane said. "So many discussions, back and forth. But finally, after about 10 days, he had the doctor's OK. My husband and I told him, this is your decision, we won't try to influence you either way."

Despatie has won silver medals at the 2008 and 2004 Olympic Games. The 27-year-old from Laval, Que., is one of the best divers Canada has ever produced. He was just 13 when he burst onto the diving scene by winning the 10-metre gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Christiane and her husband Pierre have watched their son grow and develop.

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"What's important to us is seeing that our boy has become a man," Pierre told the Toronto Sun."Alexandre never wanted someone else to lift him to where he got. Of course, we cannot ignore how significant his career has become, but it seems he doesn't fully realize how much of a symbol he is, seeing as the values he still holds dear are what we're the most proud of."

Watching their son compete hasn't always been easy.

"I want to die,'' said Christiane. "I'm breathless, I'm speechless, my heart explodes. But I always tell Pierre, this is going to last 45 minutes and then it's going to be over."

Despatie competes on Wednesday. He has said this will probably be his last Olympics. Pierre admits he will have mixed emotions watching.

"His last dive won't be the most emotionally charged for me" he said. "Given what happened in the last weeks, it will rather be the first one."
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