Cassiel Rousseau inking his own way towards family history at Paris Olympic Games
Diving is a sport where perfection is often sought and seldom — if ever — obtained.
In a discipline fixated with beauty, gracefulness and precision — within a rigid set of parameters that includes just a bathing suit — the ability to accommodate individual flair and personality is relatively sparse.
But Australia’s world champion diver, Cassiel Rousseau, has ways of stamping his own mark on the competition — and not just with his exceptional talent.
Dotted across the Brisbane diver’s right arm and leg are an eclectic assortment of tattoos, each representing a different overseas experience.
One of the recent additions — a rice bowl — is from a trip to Japan, where Rousseau spent time training with the Japanese squad, including promising young rival Rikuto Tamai, a 17-year-old prodigy who was first crowned national champion of Japan as a 13-year-old, the youngest in the country’s history.
Tamai, the silver medallist from the 2022 World Championships in Budapest, missed last year’s event through injury, but along with a collection of Chinese divers, shapes as a major threat at both February’s World Championships in Doha — and in Paris later next year.
Rousseau enthusiastically said there was plenty he was able to learn from his young rival.
“It hasn’t changed me at all,” Rousseau told ABC Sport in Brisbane of his outlook since winning the World Championships in July.
“Maybe a little less motivated right afterwards, but no, it hasn’t changed how I am preparing.
“[Going to] Japan was great, it really got me excited to get back into it.
“I’ve only been competing for six years. He’s 17, but he’s an amazing diver, really beautiful,” Rousseau said of Tamai, whom he beat into second at the World Championship Trials in Brisbane this week, Rousseau’s second competition since he won gold in Fukuoka.
“He’s got great strength too. He probably just needs to work on his consistency a bit, but he’s a really big talent.”
That much was evident in Brisbane.
Although there were plenty of impressive performances from Australian talents like Sam Fricker and Jaxon Bowshire, Rousseau and Tamai were a cut above, appearing to have more time through the air to execute their twists and turns before punching, almost without a splash, into the water with a thunderous clap that echoed through the pool.
Of course, that’s impossible — gravity is a ceaselessly unforgiving medium against which to practice one’s craft.
The lull at the top of the platform is momentary before a relentless acceleration towards the surface of the water.
Composure in the face of such on-rushing impact is a necessity, but it’s not just that second or two of freefall where timing is so important.
There’s the wait while the uncontrollable exempt from competition — your competitors — go through their own routine.
It’s a wait that can unsettle even the most experienced of athletes.
But not Rousseau.
“I used to get nervous,” Rousseau acknowledged.
“Everybody is different but, for me, I don’t really think about it until I’m there [at the top of the platform].
“I’m much more relaxed.”
So relaxed, in fact, that it appeared to be news to him that he had cracked the 100-point barrier for his final dive of the competition, a tucked-forward four-and-a-half somersault effort.
“Oh really?” Rousseau said with genuine surprise, turning to ask for confirmation.
“Wow, that’s good.
“I saw the 9s and 9.5s, so I guess that figures.”
That casual attitude is far from arrogance, with Rousseau saying that the feel of the dives is far more important at this stage of the season than how the judges score them.
The 22-year-old is fresh from becoming Australia’s first 10 metre platform world champion in Fukuoka earlier this year — and has eyes on securing a sensational family double in Paris next year.
Rousseau, who claimed his spot in Doha with victory in the Australian World Championship Trials in Brisbane, is not lacking in confidence and neither should he.
A big part of that is his disarmingly relaxed approach to competition, with nerves that will plague other athletes at all levels, including 31-year-old veteran Melissa Wu, who also booked her spot on the team after a tough battle in Brisbane.
The four-time Olympian Wu, who won silver in the 10m synchro competition in Beijing and a bronze in the 2020 Tokyo Games, told the ABC that despite her incredible success, nerves are something she still has to deal with.
“Sometimes I say to myself, listen to your own advice,” Wu says with a smile.
“I’ve been pretty open with how nerves have affected me in the past … but I still get nervous when I’m climbing the stairs to dive.”
Wu has faced a real battle over the past 12 months, struggling with the wear and tear on her body as well as an impact injury she suffered when competing on SAS Australia.
Since winning gold in the synchro with Charli Petrov at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Wu took some time away to explore new challenges — and it’s paid off, with Wu booking her spot at the World Champs in the individual, and imbued with a clear idea of what she needs to improve on as she targets a staggering fifth Olympic appearance.
Nikita Hains won the women’s 10m competition in Brisbane to take the other spot in the individual, while Wu will team up with Petrov, who was absent from Brisbane through injury, in the synchro competition in Doha.
Rousseau will partner Domonic Bedggood in the synchro in Doha, with Bowshire gaining the other solo spot for the platform.
Maddison Keeney, Alysha Koploi, Kurtis Mathews, Shixin Li, Anabelle Smith and Fricker will also compete at the World Championships for a spot in Paris.
Paris will be Rousseau’s second Games, but his family history with the Olympics goes back further than that.
If you’ve not already heard Rousseau’s fascinating family relationship with the Olympics, you’re probably going to hear about it a lot more in the build-up to the Paris Games..
His grandfather, Michel, competed at the 1956 Melbourne Games as a track cyclist for France.
Not only that, he won gold in the sprint mere months after becoming a world champion for the first time.
Now, his grandson is preparing to head to a Games in Paris, representing Australia, just months after he too was crowned champion of the world.
The parallels are almost eerie. Will they be prophetic?
“I’m not trying to do the same as him,” Rousseau explained.
“I don’t mean that in a bad way, because it is inspirational.
“But I haven’t thought that much about Paris yet.”
It’s an approach that, on current viewing, appears to be paying off, with his program of dives improving all the time.
The program he completed in Brisbane, earning him 546.70, was almost identical to the one that won him the world championship with 520.85 points earlier this year — although comparing the two events with a different team of judges is almost completely irrelevant.
It’s most likely to be the same program that he hopes to emulate his grandfather with at the Paris Olympic Aquatics Centre.
“There might be small changes,” Rousseau said.
“I changed the back three-and-a-half to a tuck instead of a pike to help protect my lower back while I get back into things.
“But I won’t be changing too much.”
Not even more ink, should he be successful in 2024?
“I need to be careful now,” Rousseau said with another disarming smile.
“I’ve got all the ones that I want now, so I’ll have to think about it.”
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