Change is coming to the London 2012 Olympic diving competition.
While the women's dives are expected to remain consistent with what was performed four years ago in Beijing 2008, the men tell a different story.
"There's been quite a shift on the men's side," said Mitch Geller, chief technical officer for Diving Canada, during an April conference call. "The men's events … are showing much higher degree of difficulty dives."
As the stakes get higher with the Olympic Games looming, the dives get tougher—especially in the men's 3-metre springboard event.
There is one dive in particular that viewers can expect to see in London 2012: the front-facing four-and-a-half somersault.
It is a dive that only a handful of the world's top divers have perfected; Canada's Alexandre Despatie could be one of them.
While he has plenty of experience performing the dive on the 10-metre platform, the 3-metre springboard poses a much tougher challenge.
Injuries have plagued Despatie—Canada's most decorated male diver—for much of the past few seasons, bringing up inquiries of his health as he approaches the diving board at the Olympic pool.
So far, the 26-year-old from Laval, Que., says he feels good.
"I am starting to see improvement with this dive in training and I still have three months to make it perfect before the Olympics," said Despatie in a Montreal press conference Tuesday. "It's important to test it in competitions, to see how it will go. I don't want to keep it just for London."
When it comes to a dive of this level of difficulty, confidence is key.
"I need to be comfortable doing it in competitions, not only in training, so I want to take advantage of the next official competitions to practice it when I can," he said. "Going into the Games, I want to have a certain level of confidence with this dive. Otherwise, it would be too much of a risk to try it."
That is why, as he prepares for his fourth trip to the Games, Despatie intends to perform the dive as much as possible in upcoming competitions—including the Canada Cup in Montreal, which begins on Thursday.
"I plan on using it this weekend," said the two-time Olympic silver medalist. "Probably not in the preliminary rounds, maybe in the semifinals… But in the finals, if I go that far, I will definitely use it."
The Canada Cup will give divers a chance to gain more qualification points before Diving Plongeon Canada's national team selection from May 25-27. Because Despatie has already qualified himself for the Olympic Games, the upcoming competition is a chance for him to put his training to the test in a competitive setting.
According to CTVOlympics diving analyst and Olympic bronze medallist Blythe Hartley, the front four-and-a-half dive has become prevalent enough to be a major factor in determining who climbs atop the podium in London.
"It seems as though if you want to vie for a medal, you need to be able to do that dive," said Hartley in February.
"I think the difference in degree of difficulty has such a strong influence on the outcome in the point total that you need to be doing the hard dive to win a medal."
Mitch Geller agrees, adding that the dive brings a level of uncertainty to the pool.
"It makes it less predictable because when they miss those kinds of dives, they miss them big," he said. "So it changes the ranking substantially."
It is this high-stakes competition—the risk versus reward—that will play such a huge factor not just in London but the sport as a whole.
Diving is not the only sport to have seen this type of phenomenon; Canadian figure skater Kurt Browning first introduced the world to the quadruple jump in on-ice competition in 1988. The move later became prominent in the late 1990s and early 2000s and is now almost a must-have move for any figure skater hoping to rank high in competition.
Similar to figure skating's quad, diving's front four and a half has quickly become a significant game-changer; so much so, that competitors can almost forget about competing without it—especially at the Olympic Games.
While Despatie has seen success without the dive (he finished third without it at the last World Cup), he admits that he, "would really need the stars to be aligned," for him to medal without the dive.
"For the Olympics, everybody will be at their best," said Despatie. "It's nearly a priority to insert it."
- With files from Jennifer Lukas and La Presse