How Amherst’s Michael Hixon’s diving will be judged at the 2016 Olympics

  • Michael Hixon and Samuel Dorman celebrate after winning the synchronized men's 3-meter springboard final at the U.S. Olympic diving trials Wednesday, June 22, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings

  • Michael Hixon dives during the men's 3-meter springboard semifinal at the U.S. Olympic diving trials Monday, June 20, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings

  • Michael Hixon and Samuel Dorman compete during the synchronized men's 3-meter springboard final at the U.S. Olympic diving trials Wednesday, June 22, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings) Darron Cummings

Published: 8/9/2016 4:22:44 PM

The sound the board produces when a diver first presses down on it reveals the quality of the approach.

Amherst native Michael Hixon takes three shorter, measured steps before an extended, leaping stride.

His left foot plants as his arms extend upward, taking the rest of his body with him.

On the way back down, he’ll “catch” the board, bending his knees and forcing it to flex.

The board snaps back to place, and Hixon straightens his legs.

Liftoff and the sound follow — a smooth pop then dense plastic bobbing against metal if everything proceeds smoothly.

“If he doesn’t catch the board well, you’ll hear the board make an unusual sound,” said Mandy Hixon, Michael’s mother and former coach. “It’s kind of like the difference between a professional musician playing a violin and a third-grader.”

Michael Hixon will approach and take off from the diving board at least 11 times during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.

Six of the dives will come during the synchronized 3-meter springboard with partner Sam Dorman on Wednesday.

The synchronized event is an eight-team final.

“They’re already in the final. There’s only seven teams ahead of them, or in the way. On that one day if they put six great dives together, they have the ability to challenge anybody in the world,” said Drew Johansen, Michael Hixon’s coach at Indiana and with Team USA. “Now it’s going to be about how they handle the moment. The quality of diving they can do and the way their dives synch up matches up against anybody in the world.”

Each synchronized team performs six dives.

The first two rounds are called voluntary dives.

They are automatically assigned a degree of difficulty of 2.0 and come from one of the five categories of dives — spinning forward, spinning backward, spinning reverse, spinning inward, and twisting and spinning any direction.

“Voluntaries are the easy dives,” Michael Hixon said. “That’s just to get the competition started. It’s like the skill part of it. Any time you score between 50 and 54 on those dives it keeps you in the ballpark as far as medals are concerned.”

Synchronized teams are scored by 11 judges on a 1-to-10 scale on the basis of approach, takeoff, elevation from the board, execution of the spins/flips and entry into the water.

Six judges focus on the individual divers, three for Hixon and three for Dorman.

The other five focus on how the divers synchronize with each other. From the side, both divers should appear as one image.

The high and low scores are eliminated from each of the three committees — both individuals and the synchronized — then the remaining five scores are added together and multiplied by the degree of difficulty.

That number is then multiplied by 0.6 to achieve the final score.

After the first two compulsory dives, teams must choose four optional dives largely from the remaining categories.

Only one dive category may be repeated.

“Me and Sam will double up on twisters,” Hixon said. “Both of our twisters are as hard as anybody else in the world is doing in synchro.”

Dive 109C — a front tuck with 4½ somersaults — highlights their dive card and Hixon’s individual program.

It’s a 3.8 difficulty, the highest in the competition. Only two other teams are hitting that mark.

“It’s been the hardest dive (for me) to get from a struggle to being good,” Hixon said. “The past two years at Indiana, my coach stressed the importance of me having that dive, especially for synchro. For me it was a huge struggle before I could get that throwing. Now I think it’s pretty competitive.”

Dorman and Hixon closed their winning synchronized diving program at the U.S. Olympic Trials with the front 4½. Hixon performed it fifth during his individual 3-meter trials qualification and finished second.

The individual 3-meter diving competition takes place over multiple days and initially features 29 athletes compared to the eight synchronized teams.

Preliminaries are on Aug. 15, and the top 18 advance to the semifinals on Aug. 16.

The semifinals take place during the morning with the finals that night.

Individual divers perform six dives and must select one dive from each category.

Only one may be repeated like in synchro.

“One of Mike’s strengths is his twisting dives,” Johansen said.

Seven judges score the dive 1 through 10.

The two highest and two lowest scores are dropped before the three remaining are added together then multiplied by the degree of difficulty.

Most Olympic dives range between 3.0 and 3.5.

“I’m hoping the (television) commentator explains it well. What you’re looking for is the first part is the takeoff. If he’s doing a forward takeoff you’re going to look to see how straight he is when he steps down out of his hurdle, if he’s on the end of the board, if he doesn’t catch the board well,” Mandy Hixon said. “He’s such a good competitor, he’s learned how to fight and learned how to adjust from a hurdle that might not be perfect.”

He’ll hear it if he isn’t.

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