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Thursday, March 22, 2007
Dedieu returns, wins third synchro gold at worlds

Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Magnifique!

Virginie Dedieu
Virginie Dedieu of France received three perfect scores of 10.0 for artistic merit to win her third gold medal.

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.