Mia Vallée was in her bubble, impervious to the evolution of the classification since the start of this 3m springboard final at the Budapest World Championships last summer.

A few days earlier, the Beaconsfield diver had won bronze in the 1m, confirming her hopes in this specialty.

In the 3m Olympic event, she was aiming for a final, which she had already accomplished by finishing fourth in the semis the day before.

She was now in third place before her fifth and final try in the final. In preparation for her jump call, she slicked her hair back and toweled her braid one last time, her face impassive. She bounded to the end of the plank before propelling herself into a double and a half forward somersault with a twist.

“Not perfect, but the score should be good enough,” said the British descriptor. The Canadians in the stands love it. »

He was talking about “Team Mia”. Red t-shirt flocked with the name of their favorite, Canadian flags at arm’s length, parents, boyfriends, friends stood out even if there were only half a dozen of them.

“What the hell do they have to get so worked up about?” Mia Vallée wondered when she saw them. They knew: with three competitors still in the running, she was already assured of a medal.

The main interested party took a little longer to understand it, until an official ordered her to quickly change for the podium ceremony…

” What do you mean ? Like… right now? There were still the last two divers left. I ran to the podium. I almost cried because it took me until I got on it to realize what I had done. »

Vallée squeezed between two Chinese women to win silver in the 3m, a first since newly retired Jennifer Abel’s bronze in 2017.

At the same time, she became the first Canadian diver in history to reach the podium twice in an individual event in the same presentation of the Worlds. On the men’s side, Alexandre Despatie won gold twice in Montreal in 2005.

A month later, Mia Vallée continued her momentum by winning three medals at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham: gold in 1m and bronze in 3m and 3m synchro with Alberta’s Margo Erlam.

The 22-year-old rushed to eat her lunch in five minutes so she could take the call from La Presse amid a hubbub on the University of Miami campus.

She was coming out of an exam and had to study for the next day in mathematics. On Sunday, she had another assessment and submitted her final thesis for her bachelor’s degree in marine biology. She has been working there for a year and a half. The subject: the resilience of a coral reef off the island of Guam, a US territory in the Pacific Ocean.

Theoretically, Vallée would have taken these last exams this week in preparation for his graduation on May 12. But she rearranged her schedule so she could attend another very special event: the Montreal Diving World Cup, the second of three stops on a new circuit put forward by World Aquatics, the international federation formerly known as name of FINA.

The competition will take place from Friday to Sunday at the Olympic Park swimming pool. An expanded “Team Mia” will be there to cheer on the two-time world medalist. In total, they will be about thirty: grandparents, uncles and aunts, cousins, cousins…

“Some people have never seen me dive,” enthused Vallée, who hasn’t competed in his home province for five years. “I’ve never had so much support in a competition. It’s gonna be a different feeling! »

Trained at the Pointe-Claire club, Mia Vallée distinguished herself on the international scene by finishing sixth in the 3m at the 2016 Junior Worlds. A year later, she took a six-month break to treat herself to a “step back” on his sport. She prefers to keep the details of this difficult period to herself.

“I wish I hadn’t gone through this as a person, but I think it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Without it, I wouldn’t be here in Miami, with my team and my coach Randy [Ableman], studying the subject that I love. »

This break from diving in her late teens made her realize that she had a right to follow in the footsteps of some colleagues in the American university system. “I was really envious and I knew it was frowned upon to go to the United States. »

She had somewhat given up on Olympic ambitions which, in any case, did not represent an absolute for her.

“School is always going to be the most important thing. It is the only aspect of my life that I can fully control. I have always been good at school. I’m not saying it’s not difficult, but it’s not stressful. I have the motivation and the organization to do it. It is very simple, but difficult. »

His biggest dilemma was, “Do I really want to dive or do I want to have a social life?” This is the question I have asked myself several times. »

Has she found the answer? “Average… I tried to do my best every day in training and competition. But in my head it was: if I don’t do the Olympics, I don’t do the Olympics. »

Now that participation in the Paris Games in 2024 is very realistic, the world vice-champion retains the same attitude.

“If a dive isn’t perfect, I don’t think, ‘Oh no, that won’t be enough for the Games.’ It’s more like, “I’ll try to do better next time.” Honestly, it really makes a difference. I always said to myself: the Olympics are two weeks of your life. It’s an experience like any other. In my opinion, it is the experiences you have every day that are important. »

Mia Vallée will have another exhilarating moment this weekend in Montreal as she competes in 3m and 3m synchro with Erlam. After a more complicated season on the NCAA circuit, she regained her confidence thanks to a fruitful period of training in the last month and a half.

“I think I was just tired. The college season resumed at the end of September and we are traveling across the United States. There, I was able to concentrate on my studies and details in training. I feel a little more like I was at the World Championships. »

Next week, her parents will accompany her for her graduation in Miami, where she will continue her journey since she has been admitted to the master’s degree. She will further her research on the corals of Guam and, after a one-year break for her Olympic preparation, will wear the colors of the Hurricanes for a final season in 2024 and 2025.

Mia Vallée credits her fascination with marine biology to annual family vacations in the Virgin Islands dating back to her early childhood.

“We weren’t going there to sunbathe!” We snorkeled to observe fish and marine life. My mother loves science. She did her master’s degree in forest ecology. We had a little book with all the fish in the Caribbean. With my parents, we tried to spot them in the water and understand why they looked like that. We learned a lot of things. That’s really how my love of marine life grew when I was little. »

Although she has less time due to her studies, Vallée always spends a few days with her family in the Virgin Islands during the American Thanksgiving holiday.

A graduate of one of the most reputable universities in marine biology, the diver offers this response when asked if she is thinking of pursuing research in Quebec: “I’m a little spoiled by the sun here! It will take me a few years before I come to jump into the icy waters of the St. Lawrence River…”