Olympics: Parents of Gabby Thomas, Michael Hixon will watch from afar

  • Michael Hixon with his mother, Mandy, at Boyden Pool. She coached him for much of his youth career. FILE PHOTO

  • Amherst College men’s basketball coach Dave Hixon talks with his team during a time against Nichols during an NCAA Tournament game. COURTESY CLARUS STUDIOS INC./AMHERST COLLEGE

  • Mike Hixon has a close relationship with his mother, Mandy Hixon. She coached him from a young age and still worked with him whenever he came home for holidays or visits. FILE PHOTO

  • Mandy Hixon, left, and Dave Hixon are accustomed to supporting their son at odd hours of the night and watching him on odd channels. Having live coverage form Tokyo available so comfortably makes not being in Tokyo for the Olympics a little easier. FILE PHOTO

  • Mandy Hixon, left, and Dave Hixon are accustomed to supporting their son at odd hours of the night and watching him on odd channels. Having live coverage form Tokyo available so comfortably makes not being in Tokyo for the Olympics a little easier. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2021 5:11:57 PM

Mandy Hixon smacked her husband Dave Hixon in the arm.

“He’s diving, he’s up,” she said, referring to their son Michael Hixon, who was competing internationally for the first time at the 2010 Summer Youth Olympics. They couldn’t travel to Singapore to watch in person and were taking a mini vacation on Cape Cod.

It was 1 a.m. An Italian was providing the color commentary. But they watched him win the bronze medal in the three-meter springboard.

Sometimes, that’s the price of having a child successful in international competition -- odd hours and questionable video feeds.

“We’ve been doing that for a long time because there are a lot of international meets we weren’t able to go to because we were coaching or had other things like jobs that we had to do. We made a lot of them as well,” said Mandy Hixon, a longtime college diving coach at Amherst College and UMass. “I would be calling people that were over there or texting them saying what is this being streamed on? Where can we watch this? The Olympics is easy. Watching the (FINA) World Cup, we had the Olympic channel, we had Eurovision. Then we could decide which commentator we wanted to listen to, just plug it in and we’re all set.”

Because of travel and spectator restrictions in Japan due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll have to do it again for the Olympics, Michael Hixon’s second trip to the Games. He won silver in the men’s synchronized springboard with partner Sam Dorman at the Rio De Janeiro Games in 2016. His parents and older brother Matthew made the trip to Brazil. They watched golf’s Olympic debut and took in basketball. Every time the family went to, by, or remotely near Ipanema Beach, Dave Hixon treated them to his rendition of “The Girl From Ipanema,” the bossa nova standard also performed by Frank Sinatra.

“They had to put up with my singing,” said Dave Hixon, who coached the Amherst College men’s basketball team for 42 years. “For me, it was his diving and to be a family to be there. They were that close to winning gold, four points. Of course we all thought the last dive for the other team was overrated by about five. It was just amazing to be down there and watching in that atmosphere.”

This cycle they’ll watch him and new partner Andrew Capobianco from their couch in Amherst. The event begins at 2 a.m. Wednesday. Without the pandemic, they would have gone to Japan. One of Dave Hixon’s former Amherst players is a businessman in Japan and they would have stayed at his house.

They’ve known they weren’t going to see him in person for months, which was why they made such an effort to go to the USA Diving Olympic Trials in Indianapolis. NBC’s cameras focused on the Hixons during the first few rounds of the competition, but when they were calmly observing the focus shifted to Capobianco’s family, which cheered and cringed, living and dying on every twist and score.

“They gave up on us because we don’t show a lot of emotion. They’re selling, too,” Dave Hixon said. “We’re coaches, we watch the game, a lot of internal paddling and stuff going on. We all have our own little things, we try to sit in the same spot, wear the same clothes if he did well or change if he doesn’t, all the little things that coaches do.”

For a time, they weren't sure there would even be an Olympics to watch him at. Michael Hixon didn’t compete for more than a year during the pandemic, and his parents fell out of form as observers.

“We hadn’t done that sort of stress, the high level of stress,” Dave said.

He finally returned to their screens at the 2021 FINA World Cup in early May. As they watched him compete, Mandy turned to Dave and said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“We’re just out of shape, we were out of shape to watch him,” Mandy said. “Just wanting it so much for him, knowing how much he wants it. We were both like, ‘oh god.’”

But watching from home provides access and luxuries that aren’t at the pool. They can watch replays. Dave Hixon follows the scores on the DiveMeets site, which provides a live scoreboard that shuffles as scores come in.

Jennifer Randall, who will be watching her daughter Gabby Thomas run in her first Olympics, sometimes prefers the television experience to the stadium. 

“It’s not like it’s bad. You get to see the replay 50,000 times. You hear all of the commentary,” Randall said. “They’re zeroing in on your kid’s face, whereas when you’re there you’re several hundred feet away and your kid looks like a speck.”

Randall, the Director of Evaluation for the Center for Educational Assessment and an associate professor at UMass, has known she wasn’t going to Tokyo for months. 

“I told people yes it was upsetting then, but I’ve had a lot of months to sit with it,” Randall said. “I tell friends now, and they get devastated. I’m long past devastated. I’ve had time to process it. It was never going to happen.”

After Thomas won the 200-meter dash at the Olympics Trials in historic fashion – the second-fastest time in history – Randall wondered if she should go to Tokyo anyway. Even if she just had to watch from a hotel, she and Thomas could have breakfast together, she thought.

“Or hang out with a person who is just your mom and not someone who is interested in you as an athlete,” Randall said.

It didn’t make sense, though. Olympians are really only allowed to be in the Olympic Village, practicing or competing in Tokyo. Randall would have been alone in Tokyo FaceTiming Thomas, and she could do that from Amherst.

“It’s disappointing. Your kid makes an Olympic team - most people’s children don’t make Olympic teams. So you want to be present for that. I was present for the middle school meets,” Randall said. “I’m just happy she gets to go. I’m happy they’re having it.”

Randall generally watches Thomas compete by herself. If another human is there, she won’t kick them out.

“There’s not a whole lot of jumping up and down or screaming, I’m the mom so I’m thinking, don’t get hurt,” Randall said. “Not even win, she’s an outstanding competitor so I don’t even worry about that. I worry about her keeping healthy.”

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2021 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy