Amherst’s Michael Hixon turns focus to Olympic Games in synchronized diving

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2021 9:15:46 PM

Michael Hixon likely dove professionally for the last time on United States soil at the US Olympic Trials last week. He wasn’t about to go out on a dud.

The Amherst native and his partner Andrew Capobianco built a large lead entering Friday’s men’s 3-meter synchronized final. It grew to the point of insurmountable as the list progressed. They led by nearly 100 points with a dive to go. 

“As long as they hit the water, they’re going to Tokyo,” NBC commentator Ted Robinson said.

It was a familiar position for Hixon. He and Sam Dorman occupied a similar position in 2016. They eventually won the silver medal in Rio De Janeiro later that summer. The entire experience was new for Capobianco, competing in his first Olympic Trials.

“I think you try to stay calm. For us it was about going out in the prelims and semis and creating some space,” said the 26-year old Hixon. “I think we were both pretty nervous but I had been there before, Andrew hadn’t. Trying to get him to focus on the diving was what it was all about.”

They maintained that focus through their last — and most challenging — dive: 109C, a forward dive with four and a half turns in the tuck position. Though Hixon and Capobianco didn’t need it as they already had more points than second-place Gregory Duncan and Grayson Campbell before ascending the ladder, they finished the list with a flourish and sent themselves to Tokyo in style.

“You don’t want to make an Olympic team on a dive you do for threes. That’s not a great look,” Hixon said. “You’re still in an environment where there’s a ton of pressure. It’s a lot like it’s going to be in Tokyo. For us, it was important to have a good performance there. I guarantee you we’re not going to be in a situation in the Olympics where we have a lot of space from the teams beneath us. We’re going to have to hit the last dive.”

Though the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis wasn’t at full capacity, Hixon’s parents Mandy Hixon — the longtime UMass diving coach — and dad Dave Hixon, the former men’s basketball coach at Amherst College, were both in attendance to see their son become an Olympian for the second time. He’ll likely retire after the Olympics.

“Those are most likely the last dives I’ll ever do in the United States,” Michael Hixon said. “It was special to have my mom there since she was my first coach.”

His former synchro partner Dorman also saluted him and Capobianco. Dorman retired in 2018.

“That was awesome. I think Sammy still feels like he’s part of the team, and rightfully so,” Hixon said.

It’s tradition that when someone makes their first Olympic team, a former member will bestow their Olympic ring. Dorman gave his to Capobianco.

“I’ve been lucky to have such great synchro partners,” Hixon said. “I’ve been saying I’m just the bridge between two great divers.”

After Friday’s synchro finals, Hixon turned his attention to Sunday’s individual final. He started it in third trailing Campbell by less than a point. The top two divers qualified for the Olympics. Hixon finished fourth, 10 points out of a second consecutive individual berth.

“I’m really disappointed with how that went. I’m disappointed in myself with how that went. I thought I prepared pretty well, and it started in the prelims and it went well,” he said. “Pretty embarrassed in myself from that performance. You never get it back. I don’t get another opportunity.”

But he found a silver lining. It lets him focus more on synchro, where there will only be eight teams competing and a much better chance at a medal.

“You always dream of medaling as an individual, but I know we’re in a good spot to win a medal in synchro, and I can put all of my energy into that,” Hixon said.

He and Capobianco won’t leave for Tokyo for another month. They’ll spend much of the time training together either in Indiana (where Capobianco is and they both went to college) or Michigan (where Hixon is working on an MBA).

It will be a markedly different experience than Hixon had in Brazil five years ago. They were in Rio for a month before the games. This time the team is heading straight to the Olympic Village after they land, and Hixon will leave Japan the day after his event.

“They’re having the Games, and that’s the most important thing,” he said. “For a while there I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to happen.”

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