CALGARY — Two Olympic divers from Canada are about to take their new partnership out for an international spin.
Montreal's Nathan Zsombor-Murray and Rylan Wiens of Pike Lake, Sask., who made their Olympic debuts last summer in the 10-metre tower, will compete in synchronized diving together for the first time when the FINA Grand Prix in Calgary starts Thursday.
"This is super-cool," Zsombor-Murray said Wednesday after a training session at the MNP Community and Sport Centre. "I'm doing synchro with a guy who's basically my age and we have very similar technique.
"We've always been friendly competitors. There's never been any drama. If there's not drama on the ground, there's not going to be drama on the tower."
The two men have had few training sessions together, but nailing a front four-and-a-half somersault on one of their first outings felt promising.
"This is our first real time doing synchro 10-metre," Wiens said. "We fit well together. We both look similar diving.
"Being out there with Nathan, he's a lot of fun. We get to banter back and forth and joke around."
The Grand Prix is the first international event for most of Canada's divers since Tokyo's Olympic Games last summer.
The retirements of Olympic medallists Jennifer Abel and Meaghan Benfeito opened the door for the next crop of Canadian talent to step through and headline the national team.
Zsombor-Murray, 19, and Wiens 20, are currently ranked fourth and seventh in the world respectively in the individual 10-metre by FINA.
Zsombor-Murray placed 13th and Wiens 19th in their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.
Given their ages and familiarity with each other, the two expected to be paired at some point in their careers, but it nearly happened way ahead of schedule on an Olympic stage.
Zsombor-Murray's synchro partner Vincent Riendeau injured his back in training at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
So Zsombor-Murray and Wiens were thrown together for the first time in a practice session in case Riendeau couldn't compete.
Riendeau, who was able to dive, and Zsombor-Murray placed fifth in the synchro tower.
Some groundwork was laid for Zsombor-Murray and Wiens, however, ahead of Riendeau's retirement.
"As soon as we did that session, we watched the video and we're like 'Yeah, OK, well next year, once we kind of get paired up together, this is going to be a thing. We're expecting this,''' Wiens said.
"The goal is an Olympic medal in 2024."
Montreal was scheduled to host a diving World Series event in May, but FINA has put the series on hold and postponed the event.
So the four-day Grand Prix concluding Sunday is a last chance for almost 70 divers from eight countries to hone their performance ahead of the world aquatics championship June 18 to July 3 in Budapest, Hungary.
"I think this is going to be the best Grand Prix we've seen in the last decade," Diving Canada chief technical director Mitch Geller said. "People don't want to make the world championship their first senior (meet). This is a great prep."
Zsombor-Murray and Wiens are among just six Canadians heading to Budapest alongside Calgary's Caeli McKay and Margo Elam, Mia Vallée of Kirkland, Que., and Victoria's Bryden Hattie.
McKay, who finished fourth in women's 10-metre synchro with Benfeito in Tokyo, isn't competing in Calgary in order to preserve an ankle she injured before the Olympics for the world championship.
The timing of the world championship wasn't ideal, Geller said, so Canada will send a larger team to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England in July.
"We weren't assessing the value of the competition. We were more assessing the value of the timing of the competition and the Commonwealth Games is the best for us," Geller said.
"The idea is come back with more medals than we ever have. We go, get medals, come home with a heavier bag."
Zsombor-Murray and Wiens want to continue their progress up the individual rankings this summer, as well as measure where they stand as a synchro duo.
"It's kind of going and seeing what's out there for synchro teams worldwide because they're all going to be in the Olympics in 2024," Wiens said. "We've got to see where we rank."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2022.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press