Advertisement

Wiens, Zsombor-Murray: Canada's best men's diving Olympic medal hopes since Despatie

MONTREAL — Canadian divers Rylan Wiens and Nathan Zsombor-Murray represent something the country hasn’t seen before, according to one of their coaches.

"We've never had the strong force of the Canadian team be two men on 10-metre,” coach Mary Carroll said Thursday from the Olympic Pool. “That's unheard of in Canadian diving.”

Wiens, a 22-year-old from Pike Lake, Sask., and the 20-year-old Zsombor-Murray of Pointe-Claire, Que., advanced to Saturday's men’s 10-metre platform final at the World Aquatics Diving World Cup on Thursday. Wiens finished seventh, while Zsombor-Murray placed ninth in the preliminaries.

At the Doha world championships earlier this month, the pair pre-qualified for this summer’s Paris Olympics in the 10-metre synchronized event.

Wiens also pre-qualified in the individual discipline after a fifth-place finish in Doha, while Zsombor-Murray, who placed ninth, will have to secure his spot at the Olympic trials in Windsor, Ont., from May 17-19.

Canada’s women have been a consistent presence on Olympic diving podiums. Meanwhile, the men haven't reached it since Alexandre Despatie won silver on the three-metre springboard at Beijing 2008.

Carroll believes Wiens and Zsombor-Murray have what it takes to buck that trend.

"If they're on, they have the quality to get a medal, and that's not just in synchro,” Carroll said. “That's what's special about the synchro team is we don't have one good diver and then a sidekick — we have two really good divers.

“They're hungry for two medals at the Olympics. That's their goal."

And both Wiens and Zsombor-Murray say they’re not shying away from the pressure that comes with being pegged as Canada's best chance to break a drought in men's diving.

"It just adds fuel to the fire," Wiens said. "We're more hungry than ever now that it's really shaping up this year."

The duo have already hit the podium on the international stage with a bronze medal in the 10-metre synchro at the 2022 worlds, a first in Canadian diving history.

But while trying to carry that momentum into 2023, Wiens hit several bumps in the road.

After hurting his neck and reaggravating it at last May’s World Cup stop in Montreal, he sustained a “pretty nasty” back injury in training and didn’t compete for five months.

Wiens says regaining his confidence was a long process after spending more time off the platform than he could ever remember.

“It was really tough at the start,” Wiens said. “On every dive, I was nervous, especially the one that I messed up and hadn't done for three months (a reverse two-and-a-half).”

At the worlds, both Wiens and Zsombor-Murray dealt with a sickness before their events.

Despite only training in two of five days in the lead up, Wiens rattled off six impressive dives in the individual final to score a 489.20 — just clearing the 480-point threshold to guarantee a ticket to Paris.

"The guy's physically tough, and Doha showed me once again how mentally tough he is,” added Carroll. “It's something to own going into the Olympic year because you need both."

While Wiens was on the sidelines in 2023, Zsombor-Murray dove to his best year yet with a 10-metre individual World Cup bronze in Montreal, two silvers at the PanAms and two national titles.

Although he fell short of individually qualifying for Paris at the worlds, Zsombor-Murray insists he’ll make good on the promise at the Olympic trials.

Zsombor-Murray and Wiens were 13th and 19th, respectively, in the individual 10-metre at the Tokyo Games in 2021. Come this summer, they’re aiming much higher.

“Now that the Games are coming up and I have the experience of the last Games behind me, I feel sort of more ferocious coming into the next Games,” Zsombor-Murray.

WARE ADVANCES

Canada’s Pamela Ware rebounded from a world championships to forget with a solid performance Thursday to advance to Saturday’s women’s three-metre springboard final.

The 31-year-old Ware, who won silver in Montreal last year, was coming off a disappointing 25th-place finish in Doha. She also missed her final dive in the three-metre synchro alongside partner Mia Vallee as Canada failed to secure a quota spot for this summer's Paris Olympics.

On Thursday, the Montreal native pulled off all her dives with consistency and placed sixth out of 17 in the preliminary round.

Calgary’s Aimee Wilson also moved on with a 12th-place finish while Amelie-Laura Jasmin, a 19-year-old from Montreal, placed 13th and missed the cut in her first-ever World Cup event.

Later Thursday, Benjamin Tessier of Blainville, Que., finished 17th in the men's 10-metre.

Men’s three-metre and women’s 10-metre preliminaries follow on Friday, along with a team event final.

The event features over 120 divers — including 12 Canadians — from more than 20 countries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 29, 2024.

Daniel Rainbird, The Canadian Press