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Dedieu returns, wins third synchro gold at worlds

3/22/2007

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Magnifique!

French star Virginie Dedieu won her third consecutive world
synchronized swimming title in the solo free event Thursday night,
spoiling Russia's bid for a golden sweep.

Wearing a black V-neck suit and swimming to music featuring an
operatic aria, Dedieu dazzled the judges.

She received three perfect scores of 10.0 for artistic merit and
technical marks of 9.9. Her total of 99.500 points bettered Natalia
Ischenko of Russia, who had 98.500 and settled for silver for the
second straight world meet.

"The third [title] was the hardest because I retired and came
back," Dedieu said through a translator. "I made a bet with
myself. It wasn't easy to come back to the top. I'm really, really
happy."

Dedieu's victory broke up Russia's hold on the gold. The
Russians had won the first four events, and they are heavily
favored in the remaining two.

"The competition with Virginie is very tough," Ischenko, who
won the solo technical gold, said through a translator. "She's an
outstanding performer and a great athlete."

Gemma Civil Mengual of Spain earned the bronze, her third
consecutive bronze-medal finish at the worlds. Saho Harada of Japan
was fourth and American Christina Jones finished fifth.

When she realized she had won, Dedieu began weeping. She ran
across the deck and climbed into the stands for a long, lingering
embrace with her boyfriend, Jeremy.

"I said to him, 'I did it,' but we actually did it together
because he really helped me getting back to the top," she said.

Dedieu had four months to prepare for the worlds after coming
out of retirement. The 28-year-old swimmer captured the world title
at Montreal two years ago, then left the sport to pursue interior
design.

After Melbourne, Dedieu plans to tour Japan with a music and
water show before resuming her interior design career.

Mengual thought she had seen the last of Dedieu two years ago in
Montreal.

"It was a surprise she came back. It's the last time, I
think," Mengual said, laughing.

Earlier, Alexandre Despatie caused a few double-takes -- the
Canadian was leading a diving event and a couple of Chinese were
trailing.

Despatie, winner of the 3-meter springboard in his hometown of
Montreal in 2005, got off to a good start in defending his title by
leading the preliminaries in Melbourne, relegating Chinese divers
Qin Kai and He Chong into second and third, respectively.

That's not a familiar place for the Chinese, who had led 11
straight rounds of diving while winning the first four events,
including Qin's gold with Wang Feng in the 3-meter synchronized
springboard.

Despatie had 486.54 points in the prelims. The top 18 advanced
to Friday's semifinals, with the final set for that evening.

Qin finished with 474.70, followed by He Chong at 470.75. Close
behind was another veteran, Russia's Dmitry Sautin at 470.70, while
American Troy Dumais, who won silver in Montreal, was fifth at
456.00.

Despatie, who also won the 1-meter in Montreal but did not
defend his title here, said it's important not to be overawed by
the Chinese.

"A lot of people make too big deal about the Chinese divers,"
Despatie said. "I keep saying they are going to be amazing [at the
2008 Olympics] but it is our job to try and be at the same level.
My job is to go to Beijing in the best shape that I can."

Meanwhile, the world's top swimmers got their first look at the
temporary pool at Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, four days before
start of the serious business end of the world championships.

French swim star Laure Manaudou, the world 400-meter record
holder, was among several hundred swimmers who took their first
plunge in the 50-meter pool.