Michael Hixon will stay busy at diving World Championships

  • Amherst’s Michael Hixon is competing in three events at the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Gangju, South Korea, over the next two weeks. COURTESY MARC LEBRYK

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2019 8:24:28 PM

Gold medals aren’t the top prize at the 18th FINA World Aquatics Championships.

The meet, held every two years, starts Friday in Gwangju, South Korea, and is the first opportunity for divers to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Amherst native Michael Hixon will compete in three events: the 1-meter springboard, 3-meter springboard and the 3-meter springboard synchro. All events will be streamed live on olympicchannel.com and nbcsports.com/live. The Olympic Channel will broadcast all finals and semifinals of individual Olympic Events, and NBC Sports will show delayed coverage of select finals.

He won a silver medal in the synchro event with Sam Dorman at the 2016 Rio Olympics and finished 10th on the 3-meter springboard.

“That’s the reason I love sports is for those moments. There’s nothing quite like having it all on the line and getting up there and on that day who can get it done,” Hixon said. “I love being a part of those moments and I really like succeeding in those moments.”

The top three finishers automatically qualify their country for the Olympics. Qualifying doesn’t mean individual divers will compete at the Olympics. They still have to conquer the Olympic Trials next June to be selected as an individual or synchro team. But there’s no point in having the trials if the spots aren’t available. The next opportunity is at the World Cup next April.

“That’s a huge deal for us. You’ve either got to get the job done now or you’ve got to get the job done next April,” Hixon said. “We want to go out there and punch our ticket early and get on a podium this summer.”

The “we” represents Hixon and his new synchro partner Andrew Capobianco, a rising junior at Indiana. They’ve competed together since December and won their first meet at the USA Diving Winter Trials. Capobianco and Hixon captured a bronze medal at the FINA World Series in Montreal in April.

“He’s had a meteoric rise in the past two years since he’s come to Indiana,” said Hixon, who graduated from Indiana in 2018. “The end goal is 2020 and who’s going to be the best partner at that time. The way Andrew’s progressing, being able to have an eye on him and see how he’s doing, even be a little bit of a part of the development, is important. It gives me a lot of ability to see the direction we’re going.”

Capobianco is a four-time All-American already and won the 3-meter springboard NCAA championship in March. They fit together so quickly in part because Indiana coach Drew Johansen, who also coaches Team USA, used Hixon as a model for Capobianco when he was adding the springboard to his diving repertoire. Capobianco specialized on the platform beforehand. The partnership was a natural fit when Dorman retired in December.

“They’re both great competitors. When they get nervous, they rise up. That’s kind of been Andrew’s junior career. He’s been known to have these stellar performances when the lights are bright, and Mike certainly as well, and that’s what’s going to make them a great team,” Johansen told teamusa.org in December.

Hixon doesn’t complicate it that much.

“I might have a unique view on synchro diving. To me, it’s two individuals going at the same time more than it’s a huge piece of teamwork. (Capobianco’s) just become a really good diver,” he said. “(Capobianco’s) gotten a lot of experience in bigger meets and he’s stepped up and we hope to continue that in Korea. To me, he’s just diving so well and that makes him a great partner to be with.”

Qualifying for the Olympics is far from guaranteed, though. Only 0.36 points separated Hixon and Capobianco from Russia’s Evgenii Kuznetsov and Kikita Shleikher in fourth at the Montreal World Series, the last major event to contest men’s synchro. Conversely, the Americans were 40.65 behind China’s Cao Yuan and Xie Siyi for the gold medal.

“Men’s 3-meter synchro is probably the most competitive event in the world right now. You’ve got five or six teams that are just all really good and really dangerous,” Hixon said. “We’re a part of that group. If we go out there and we have our day, we could win.”

The synchro event begins with preliminaries at 9 p.m. Friday followed by a 7:45 a.m. final Saturday. They’re spread across a morning and evening in Korea.

It will be Hixon’s second event in as many days. He’ll open his program with the 1-meter springboard preliminary rounds at 10 p.m. Thursday. The finals are Sunday at 2:30 a.m. Hixon won bronze at the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia.

It’s not an Olympic event, so the stakes are different on the 1-meter board. Point margins are thinner since the dives are simpler because of the lower height. The event is won and lost in the details.

“The way you go about it is different. It’s a lot of fun to dive at world championships because everyone’s there for a good meet and a good fight,” Hixon said. “I think it’s a lot of fun.”

Two days of rest will follow for Hixon before the 3-meter springboard preliminary rounds (9 p.m. Tuesday) and semifinals (2:30 a.m. Wednesday). The final is July 18 (7:30 a.m.).

“The biggest thing we have to prepare for is load management. How do we get through a relatively short meet with three events?” Hixon said. “I’m getting kind of old these days, how do we make sure I’m fresh when I need to be fresh and ready to go.”

“Old” is a relative term. He’ll turn 25 on Monday, but he’s become an elder statesmen among a diving program proliferated with collegiate athletes.

“We’re not one of the major four professional sports. Most sports that aren’t, people stop after college, 22, 23 years old,” Hixon said. “I’m getting to the point where almost everyone I train with is younger than me. It’s a little bit of a different situation for me because I was always the young guy diving up, and now I’m the older guy in the pool.”

He recognizes the position he’s in and tries to lead by example.

“I’ve always felt a responsibility, no matter how old I was, to demonstrate the value of hard work as the most important thing – showing up and being disciplined every day in the way I work and go about training. That hasn’t changed for me,” he said. “It’s probably gotten more important in terms of how people look at it and how it might affect them as I’ve gotten a little older and gotten a little more respect in terms of the results I’ve had.”

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



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