For 11 years, Meaghan Benfeito and Rosie Filion have done things exactly the same way. They ascend to the top of the tower and look 10 m down to the pool deck and their coach for some final instructions. Then Benfeito gives the world’s shortest pep talk: “Okay let’s go. You got this. We can do it.” They walk to the edge of the platform, take their position teetering along the edge, and Meaghan—always Meaghan—counts it down. “1, 2, 3…Go!”
Tumbling and twisting as they fall, they sense, more than see, each other. When they surface, the question is, “Did you get it?” And more often than not, the answer is yes. They placed third in their very first international competition together back in 2005, the Canada Cup. Then they repeated the feat at the FINA World Championships. They’ve won medals at the Commonwealth Games, the Pan Ams, and the Olympics—diving to bronze at London 2012. All through the magic of repetition and ritual.
Benfeito’s not really sure why she changed things up at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre in Rio on Tuesday. For maybe the first time in her career—synchro and solo—she decided to pay no attention to the scoreboard. Filion followed suit. So the pair weren’t aware that they were tied with Malaysia in the silver spot after two dives. Or that they had fallen to fourth behind the North Koreans, after their third go, then fifth after a so-so back 3 and 1/2 somersault in the fourth round.
All the Canadians knew, as they readied for their final leap—a back, 2 and 1/2 somersault with a 1 and 1/2 twist pike—was that they had to dive well. And as it turned out, their score of 80.64, for a total of 336.18, was enough to lift them to a bronze medal, 13.74 points ahead of the North Koreans.
“I had no idea where we were,” a smiling Benfeito said afterwards, the bronze hanging around her neck. “I didn’t know we needed a really, really good dive. We just went up there and said to each other, ‘Okay, we need this.’ We really just had confidence in each other. It’s not for nothing that we have been diving for 11 years together.”
There was no catching the Chinese pair, Chen Ruolin and Liu Huixia, pixie twins who are never out of sync and seem to fall faster than gravity demands. They finished with 354 points, and perpetuated a streak that has seen their country win the women’s 10-m synchro gold at every Olympics since the event debuted at Sydney 2000. The Malaysian pair, Cheong Jun Hoong and Pamg Pandelela Rinong, took the silver with a score of 344.34.
The result was the same as four years ago for Benfeito, 27, and Filion, 29, but this bronze feels different. Last December, Filion broke the talus bone in her right ankle during training, landing a backflip on concrete rather than a mat. Unable to put pressure on the foot, her practice was restricted for weeks, and for a while it seemed doubtful she would qualify for Rio. The road back has been difficult, and Filion, who says that this is her last Olympics, broke down in tears while talking to reporters.
“It’s been 11 years we’ve been together, and we’ve worked hard,” the native of Laval, Que., said in French. “I really couldn’t have asked for a better partner. We understand each other without having to talk. To live this moment again with my best friend … I told her that I loved her at the end. The result didn’t matter.”
The medal wasn’t important anymore, Filion explained, because they knew what they truly were. “Best friends. It all comes back to that,” she said, wiping her eyes. “No one can take that away. Medal or not.”
Mitch Geller, the high performance director for Diving Canada, said the pair did everything he could have asked, handling the Olympic stress and battling back—whether they knew it or not. “Their synchronization probably won the day for them,” he said. “They are so connected. They’ve been doing it since 2005.”
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Filion and Benfeito also overcame the conditions. Over the course of the bright, sunny afternoon, the outdoor pool changed from blue, to light green, then a brilliant emerald by the end—an algae bloom that appears to have been the result of a broken filter system.
Standing on the edge of the platform, looking down into the soup, the Canadians said they had trouble keeping a straight face. But the vibrant green ended up being a help rather than a hindrance.
“During the week, I was having trouble seeing the water, with the blue sky and the sun’s reflection,” said Filion. “So I was like, ‘Hey, it’s green, I can see it.’ It really helped me in my diving. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
Preparing for Rio was all about expecting the unexpected, she added. “It’s really that. The water could be orange, yellow, green, it doesn’t matter when it comes to our performance. Just close your eyes and close your mouth, it’s okay.”
And after all, green does go well with bronze.