Divers Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini: The synchro diving pair who click in and out of the water

Ahead of the FINA World Championships 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea, the Olympic Channel Podcast sat down with two of the best divers.
By Scott Bregman and Edward Knowles

After finishing fourth in her two diving events at the 2016 Olympics, Canadian diver Jennifer Abel admits that she felt devastated.

She burst onto the Olympic scene as a 16-year-old back at Beijing 2008 and brought home team bronze from London 2012.

The Rio 2016 disappointment led her to find a new diving partner: Melissa Citrini.

“Melissa actually brought me to the place where that I wanted to be because she enjoys diving,” Jennifer said to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

"She enjoys life so much that it makes me realise that what I was missing right now is enjoying (life)."

As part of our coverage of the diving events at the 2019 FINA World Aquatics Championships, we spoke to Melissa and Jennifer about their special chemistry, what makes them such good friends, and their plans for the Olympics in Japan.

Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini of Canada celebrate after finishing second at the 2017 World Championships in the Women's Diving 3m Synchro Springboard

‘Dark thoughts’ after Rio 2016

Olympic Channel: Jennifer, how did you bounce back from Rio?

Jennifer Abel: It actually took me a year to enjoy diving again. I remember in Budapest at the last World Championships, I was a little bit like not in the right place mentally. I found it hard. I knew it was going to be hard after Rio. I knew obviously I had dark thoughts: ‘I don’t want to dive anymore. I’m not passionate anymore.’ I was crying a lot also. But I knew that it was a phase.

OC: Melissa, you’ve had success since coming together. What would you say is the biggest factor to that this season?

Melissa Citrini: I think our biggest factor of success for Jennifer and I is our chemistry. Since day one, we’re really together in everything that we do. We have the same point of view of training, of competing: we always want more. And we’re also really good friends. We talk a lot.

OC: How important is that relationship?

MC: I think it makes all the difference. You can be the best divers in the world and not be able to dive together. It makes a huge difference when you trust the person and you have good chemistry. Because at the end, it really matters to understand each other when you’re on the diving board.

OC: Does having someone with you help under pressure?

JA: It does because you know that if something wrong happens, she won’t be mad at you because you miss. We are going to win as a team and we’re going to lose as a team. And I think that makes a huge difference.

A strong team

OC: What do you think are each other’s strengths?

MC: For myself, I always see Jen as a really strong woman. In her life, she is strong and she always wins. She goes toward adversity with passion. Everything she does, she does it with her heart. She’s a really elegant and strong diver. Usually, you don’t see both together but she really has (both).

She goes toward adversity with passion – Melissa Citrini on Jennifer Abel

JA: Melissa, she’s really the yang of my yin. So, she’s the opposite. And I think that’s what helps me as a person to be a better also. She brings the balance and more stability on our team. Sometimes, I have the tendency of being too hard on myself. I always want to be perfect. Sometimes, it can go wrong; especially mentally because I ask a lot from myself. But Melissa is always positive. She always tries hard. She always gives her all. But, at the end, (when) it doesn’t work as good as we would have loved, she always finds a positive way (to see things).

Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini of Canada compete during the Women's 3m Synchro Springboard Final on day one of the FINA Diving World Cup Sagamihara in March 2019

Down time

OC: What sort of things do you do together away from training and competing?

JA: We really love to go out in the city if we’re here. Go out to restaurants. She comes often to my place, also. We spend some nights having fun in my backyard. But when we travel, we like to take some days off to go see, visiting, just walk around and not like necessarily talking about diving or the competition. We also both like cooking. It’s always fun to cook together.

OC: Favourite thing to cook?

JA: We’re pretty good at making salad.

OC: How much time do you spend together in total?

MC: Well, we spend almost all day together. And when we have competitions - we’re sharing the room, so that’s all the time. If we’re gone for three weeks, we will spend three weeks together. So, when we come home, maybe we skip a couple of weeks but on the weekend we see each other. I think we see each other a lot…

JA: I think 48 hours - that’s the max we can do without talking to each other.

The pair can't go '48 hours' without talking to each other
Hear the pair sing Celine Dion on the Olympic Channel Podcast
Jennifer Abel says Tokyo 2020 won't be her last competition

Future plans

OC: What do you think it’s going to take to win the gold medal at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships and at the Olympics in Japan?

JA: It’s going to take a lot. I think we both know it’s not going to be easy. The Chinese won’t give it to us easy and also the Australians are really strong. But we’re good to go now. We’re mentally rested. Now, it’s time to work really hard physically to comeback in good shape. We’re going to give it our all. Anything can happen.

OC: And any plans after Tokyo 2020?

JA: After four Olympics, you start thinking about what can you do in life. Like I said, diving has been my whole life. I started at four… so I’m ready to look at what life is giving me. But Tokyo won’t be my last competition, that’s for sure.

The Olympic Channel Podcast showcases the most inspirational and motivational stories from the Olympics and the Paralympics every Wednesday.

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The questions and answers in the interview have been condensed to make them easier to read.