Benfeito finds synchro diving success again with new partner McKay
Published Sunday, July 25, 2021 9:39AM EDT Last Updated Sunday, July 25, 2021 7:15PM EDT
DONNA SPENCER -- Meaghan Benfeito felt bereft when her longtime synchronized diving partner Roseline Filion retired.
Benfeito and Filion won Olympic bronze medals together in both 2012 in London and 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. The friends had grown up together in the Montreal diving community.
"When she announced her retirement . . . I knew she was going to retire, but the feeling from when I started training in October of 2016 to the day she retired in January, 2017, I was a complete mess but without really knowing what was the problem," Benfeito told The Canadian Press.
"When she retired, everything just dropped in my body and I thought 'maybe that's what it was.' I knew it was coming, but I didn't really want to accept it."
Benfeito's new synchro partner Caeli McKay is a decade younger than Benfeito.
"We talked about a lot of things, more because I didn't really know how to handle doing synchro with someone else," Benfeito recalled.
"I was always very difficult on her, not necessarily blaming her, but there was always something wrong. On an 18-year-old, that must be super-hard.
"We were able to talk about it and really just move on and become a team ourselves.
"It's not Meaghan and Rosie anymore, it's Meaghan and Caeli and that's something that's very important to me."
Calgary's McKay (pronounced Mack-EYE) had moved to Montreal to train with the national diving team.
She'd grown up watching Benfeito and Filion compete in Olympic Games. Benfeito also won an individual Olympic bronze medal in the 10-metre platform in 2016.
McKay had to overcome feeling starstruck while proving herself a worthy partner for a triple Olympic medallist on the tower.
"I think for her it was hard because with Rosie she had so much comfort for 11 years," McKay said. "I was a newbie and she felt she had to teach me everything and take me under her wing.
"I tried to support her as much as I could, but I knew I wasn't going to necessarily fill Rosie's shoes and I don't think Meg wanted me to fill Rosie's shoes.
"We both agreed I wasn't going to be Rosie's replacement. It's going to be a new team, a new story and a new path for both of us."
Once the two women got past the getting-to-know-you phase, success came.
The duo won Commonwealth Games silver in McKay's first multi-sport games and finished fourth at the world championship in 2018.
They claimed Pan American Games gold a year later with Benfeito and McKay also taking individual gold and silver respectively in Lima, Peru.
After the COVID-19 pandemic halted international competition for months, Benfeito, 32, and McKay, 22, won an Olympic test event in May at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre.
With that result, they qualified both Canada and themselves to compete in the 10-metre synchro event at the Tokyo Games.
The Canadians take to the boards Tuesday in the synchro event before diving in the individual women's platform competition Aug. 4-5.
McKay is three inches taller than Benfeito, so Benfeito must jump from the tower with power in order to mirror her partner's dive.
"I have to try to jump higher," Benfeito explained. "I never had to do that with Rosie. We were the same height.
"Caeli is very strong as a diver. She's a little taller than me, so that helps me a lot to push even harder. That's something I do appreciate a lot and it also makes me a better diver today."
Dive Canada chief technical officer Mitch Geller says McKay was seen as a potential future partner for Benfeito even before Filion retired.
"What we have here is a more dynamic pair," Geller said. "I even think they're better matched than were Meaghan and Rosie . . . when I say better matched, it's the level of acrobatic talent in them.
"They are both very spectacular divers, the way they move is more similar. They're both very quick movers. Their entries are better matched in that they can both get in the water extremely clean.
"When you see Meaghan and Caeli do, for instance, a front three-and-a-half pike and perform a disappearing act when they hit the water, that makes your hair stand up."
Benfeito and McKay agree they can both be headstrong about training and competing.
"We're both stubborn, but in a sense we know how to comfort each other in the same way," McKay said.
"Doing synchro with her is really helpful for me, even in my individual (diving), because she has been through everything. She can give the advice that I need and the comfort in those situations."
Said Benfeito: "Caeli's been absolutely amazing. I can't thank her enough for just putting up with me."
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 25, 2021.