The Canadian diving team will ring in a new era entering the FINA world championships in Budapest this week.
With the retirements of four-time Olympians Jennifer Abel and Meaghan Benfeito following Tokyo 2020, Canada will be in search of its stars of the future as it goes into its first major international competition of the quadrennial.
Despite the recent success at the FINA Grand Prix in Calgary they are set to face stiffer competition at the worlds — but there’s no shortage of intrigue regarding the team’s upside.
“We’re really excited about what we’re seeing. This could represent one of the best teams, if not the best, from a quality perspective, from a depth perspective, [and] from a talent perspective,” Diving Canada’s chief technical officer Mitch Geller told CBC Sports.
Olympians Caeli McKay, Nathan Zsombor-Murray and Rylan Wiens highlight the six-athlete squad that will be headed to Budapest, Hungary for competition from June 26-July 3.
Mia Vallée, Margo Erlam, and Bryden Hattie round out the team.
McKay, who finished fourth in the 10-metre synchronized event with Benfeito in Tokyo, will be facing international competition for the first time since 2021 when she competes in the 10m individual event.
McKay, who competed at the Games with torn ligaments in her left ankle, managed to qualify at the senior nationals in May. After skipping the Grand Prix event in preparation for the world championships, it may possibly still be an uphill battle for McKay who continues to work through the injury.
“She had a really good preliminaries at our recent trials and went close to her personal best. That was encouraging,” Geller said.
The Calgary native won bronze at a World Cup event in 2021 and finished seventh at the 2019 world championships in the 10m individual.
Transitioning in variety of ways
The shift for the Canadian squad will not only come in the form of gauging where the divers stand among their international counterparts in individual events, but also having synchronized duos build on newfound chemistry from the recent Grand Prix, where Canada was able to pick up a total of eight medals.
Zsombor-Murray, who finished fifth in Tokyo in the 10m synchronized with now-retired partner Vincent Riendeau, will enter his second international competition with Wiens.
The pair won gold in the same event at the Grand Prix in their first competition together. The duo will also be taking part in the 10m individual where Wiens and Zsombor-Murray finished 1-2 at nationals and rank seventh and fourth in the world by FINA, respectively.
WATCH | Wiens wins silver in individual 10m at Grand Prix:
They are not alone in having to build with a new partner either.
Mia Vallée and Margo Erlam, who collected gold in the 3m synchronized at the Grand Prix, will only be entering their third competition together.
WATCH | Vallée, Erlam grab gold in 3m synchro event:
Vallée, of Beaconsfield, Que., who will also compete in the 3m and 1m individual events — as is Erlam — has impressed on all fronts in 2022. The 21-year-old won both individual events at the nationals, with Erlam finishing right behind her. Vallée also earned silver in the 3m event at the Grand Prix.
WATCH | Vallée picks up silver in 3m:
Hattie, who along with Zsombor-Murray and McKay make up the three who have world championship experience, also comes in with some momentum of his own.
The 20-year-old Victoria, B.C., native grabbed gold in both individual 1m and 3m events at nationals, where he will also compete at the world championships.
Although the Canadian squad has flashed its capabilities, the potential they display facing stronger international competition will be a sight to see as they move forward in the quadrennial.
‘We’re really looking forward to seeing how they will do — can they rub shoulders with the best that there is?” Dancause said. “It’ll be interesting for us to see how we’re doing on the international scene.”