Olympics: Amherst’s Michael Hixon claims another synchronized diving silver medal at Tokyo 2020

  • United States' Andrew Capobianco and Michael Hixon compete during men's synchronized 3-meter springboard at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, in Tokyo, Japan. Hixon, from Amherst, and his partner won the silver medal. AP

  • Amherst’s Michael Hixon prepares to compete during the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday. AP PHOTO

  • Andrew Capobianco, left, and Michael Hixon of the United States compete during the men's synchronized 3m springboard final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday, in Tokyo, Japan. AP

  • Andrew Capobianco, left, and Michael Hixon of the United States pose for photos after winning silver medals during the men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Wednesday. AP PHOTO

  • Andrew Capobianco, left, and Michael Hixon of the United States compete Wednesday during the men’s Synchronized 3-meter Springboard Final at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the 2020 Summer Olympics. AP PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/28/2021 3:30:43 AM

Michael Hixon took an extra breath before he and Andrew Capobianco began their final dive.

The American pair established themselves in a strong silver medal position through five rounds of the men’s synchronized three-meter springboard Olympic final Wednesday in Tokyo. A strong dive 109C — four and a half somersaults in the tuck position — would clinch at least another silver medal for Hixon, an Amherst native, and put the pair in contention for gold.

The pressure rose in Hixon’s gut and his chest. He watched world-class teams like Russia’s Evgenii Kunetsov and Nikita Shleikher, who were third at the FINA World Cup in April, and Great Britain’s Jack Laugher (a Rio De Janeiro gold medalist) and Daniel Goodfellow falter. Any miss would knock Hixon and Capobianco at best down the podium and at worst out of the medals, despite their consistency at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

Hixon exhaled the stress as he and Capobianco took their first steps along the board, catapulting themselves into the air. They spun fervently before dropping calmly in the water. The dive scored 88.92 points, their highest of the competition.

It moved them to the top of the leaderboard for a moment, but the U.S. was first in the running order, which meant they had to wait for the world’s other seven best synchronized diving teams to take their shot.

Only China surpassed them. Hixon and Capobianco finished with 444.36 points to claim the silver medal — tying the USA’s best-ever finish in the event. It’s Hixon’s second silver medal, matching his hardware from Rio De Janeiro five years ago.

“It feels incredible. I’m so proud of him (Capobianco), the way we performed as a team, the way we came together. I couldn’t be happier right now,” Hixon said.

The silver medals were presented on a platter by FINA vice president Zhou Jihong, then Hixon and Capobianco hung them on each other’s necks. Capobianco took it off shortly after to admire it. Hixon pumped his fist walking off the podium.

They’ve been diving together since 2019 after Hixon’s partner in Rio, Sam Dorman, retired due to a back injury. Both dove for the University of Indiana, and they forged their partnership under Hoosiers coach Drew Johansen, who is also Team USA’s head coach.

“I think a lot of it was having someone to look up to and chase in practice a little but. It was just great to have the best diver in the country in your pool to look up to and learn from,” Capobianco said of Hixon. “He’s taught me so much about competing and becoming a world-class diver, and I’m just so thankful.”

Diving first in the order has its advantages and drawbacks, according to Mandy Hixon, Michael’s mother and first coach. She coached UMass for 17 years and is a 17-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year.

“The disadvantage is the judges haven’t judged anybody yet, so the scores start lower. You’re the barometer for where the judges go from there,” she said. “You’re also the group that starts the way. You’re putting the pressure on everyone else rather than the pressure being on you.”

Hixon and Capobianco received at least 86 points from their last three dives. They had the highest scoring dive in the fifth round, notching 86.70 on an inward three and a half somersaults tucked.

“I’d say we were pretty performance oriented. We just wanted to come out here and dive our best and I thought we did a great job of that,” Hixon said.

China’s Wang Zongyuan and Xie Siyi captured the gold medal with 467.82 points. The nation won three of the four synchronized diving golds in Japan.

The American pair didn’t crack 50 points on either of their first two dives — voluntary dives that have a lower difficulty and a lower potential for scoring. Hixon and Capobianco were in fifth to begin the third round but rocketed into second with a forward 2½ somersault with two twists in a pike position that scored 83.64 points.

“The four dives we do, we knew we were going to do those dives two years ahead of time and (Capobianco’s) incredible at those four optionals that we did,” Hixon said.

Germany’s Patrick Hausding and Lars Rudinger won the bronze with 404.73 points after nailing their final dive to leapfrog Mexico’s Yahel Castillo and Juan Celaya.

It’s the USA’s second synchronized diving medal these Olympics after Jessica Parratto and Delaney Schnell captured silver in the women’s platform. Americans have won five diving medals across the past two Olympics with the individual events still to come in Tokyo.

“It’s the people. It’s the divers, the coaches, the HPD [High Performance Department], the whole organization,” Hixon said. “I mean, starting in 2012 with Troy [Dumais] and Kristian [Ipsen] both those guys are my heroes so chasing them and looking up to that and then obviously Sam [Dorman], an incredible diver, and being able to dive with Andrew now.”

Capobianco will also represent the U.S. in the individual springboard competition starting Monday. Hixon has 48 hours to get out of Japan. He’ll start a business school internship in Florida shortly after he returns.

“The majority, 95 percent of the Olympians are going to go out on a sad note,” Mandy Hixon said. “He gets to walk away from the sport and feel so good.”

She and her husband, former Amherst College men’s basketball coach Dave Hixon, couldn’t travel to Tokyo to watch in person, so they watched their son’s likely final international dives from their house in Amherst. Dave Hixon woke up at 12:30 a.m. to ensure the TV setup was in order before the 2 a.m. start time. The storm that rolled through Western Massachusetts on Tuesday made their connection spotty earlier in the day, so he ensured they had streaming backups to not miss a dive.

Only congratulatory texts and calls interrupted their experience.

“Our phones blew up,” Dave Hixon said. “It was unbelievable.”

The meet ended around 3 a.m., and since the Hixons usually wake up at 5 a.m., they just stayed awake. Michael Hixon told them he would call “tonight,” so they were surprised when his number lit up at 6:30 a.m. Tokyo is 13 hours ahead of Amherst.

“In his world, that was tonight,” Mandy Hixon said.

They chatted for a while before their daily 7 a.m. tee time at Amherst Golf Club. Michael Hixon sounded at peace after a year of uncertainty and turmoil.

“You could tell all the weights had been lifted off his back,” Dave Hixon said. “Relieved but in the moment of enjoyment. They couldn’t have dove much better.”

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