She’s just 30 years old, yet Émilie Heymans has competed in three consecutive Olympic Games, each time returning to her hometown of St. Lambert, Que.’across the St. Lawrence from Montreal’with a medal. Known as the Canadian female diver with the most Olympic hardware, Heymans is once again training for the Games. If she qualifies for an individual or synchro spot on the Canadian diving team (since press time, Heymans has qualified to compete in London in the women’s 3m synchro event with partner Jennifer Abel, and in the women’s 3m individual event), it will be her fourth and final Olympics.
‘I’ll be there 100 percent to compete, but I really want to enjoy these Games, too,’ says Heymans, who started diving at age 11 after competing provincially in gymnastics, a sport that helped her learn diving positions such as tucks and pikes. But since diving involves heights, Heymans had to learn techniques such as rotating while attached to a belt system on a trampoline. When learning in an actual pool, a machine that produces large bubbles helped soften the impact whenever she accidentally landed on her side or belly.
Heymans will approach the London Games like her first three; after all, in the past she has always ‘looked at every one as possibly my last.’ After London, the five-foot-seven, Belgian-born diver (her family moved to Canada when she was a baby) plans to start a new career in the fashion industry. Last year, she wrapped up a degree in management and fashion design from the Université du Québec à Montréal, and she is already designing and creating her own swimsuit line and selling it to her friends.
First, though, she’ll take on a new challenge in Olympic diving: a shift to the three-metre springboard’in both individual and synchro events’after specializing in 10-metre platform dives at the past three Games. Why the change? ‘In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I won a silver in 10 metres,’ she explains. ‘I don’t think I could have done much better. But I wasn’t ready to retire.’ Switching her focus to three-metre has taken some of the stress out of diving. ‘It’s scary to dive from 10 metres because it’s so high. You can injure yourself so easily’that can be hard psychologically.’
Since turning her attention to the three-metre springboard, Heymans has gotten into the rhythm’literally’of this event. ‘Working with a three-metre board, which moves, is a challenge. Each board has a different rhythm that you have to follow. The better you use it, the higher you go and the faster you spin.’ Usually a reserved person, Heymans says she’s also getting into the rhythm of expressing herself more. ‘I focus on what’s best for me, such as picking the right training time, and not what everyone else on the team might be doing.’
Heymans’ highest hopes right now are to reach the top of the podium for solo and synchro events with diving partner 20-year-old Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que. (the pair won a silver medal in the FINA World Cup, held earlier this year at the diving venue built for the London Olympics). The two work well together partly because of their similar diving styles. ‘I don’t like to concentrate for too long on the board before a dive, and Jennifer is the same way. It makes it easier.’
Heymans is guaranteed a strong support team in London with her coach Yihua Li; older sister Severine; father Eric, a former competitive Belgian soccer player; mother Marie-Paule, herself an Olympian, having competed for Belgium in fencing in the 1976 Montreal Olympics; and her boyfriend, Christian Bernier. The couple met when they were both competing in the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Bernier was a member of the national men’s volleyball team.
After doing so many dives each day’and with years of training’Heymans knows if she’s nailed it as soon as she hits the water. ‘When you do a dive really well, it’s such a good feeling,’ she says. ‘It’s hard to do a dive well and even harder to do a dive well at the right moment. Being able to do that makes me feel really proud.’
Her diving results:
‘ 2012 FINA World Cup, Silver Medallist in three-metre synchro with Jennifer Abel
‘ 2009 FINA World Championships, Silver Medallist in three-metre individual
‘ 2008 Beijing Olympics, Silver Medallist in 10-metre individual
‘ 2004 Athens Olympics, Bronze Medallist in 10-metre synchro with Blythe Hartley
‘ 2000 Sydney Olympics, Silver Medallist in 10-metre synchro with Anne Montminy