Tricky task of going first doesn't stop USA duo from earning silver in men's 3m synchronized diving

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TOKYO — Going first in a diving competition can sometimes be seen as a negative, but it worked out just fine for Americans Michael Hixon and Andrew Capobianco on Wednesday, as the pair put together a beautiful series of dives to capture the silver medal in men’s 3-meter springboard synchronized diving.

Hixon and Capobianco scored 444.36 points for their six rounds, scoring progressively higher in every round.

The Chinese duo of Zongyuan Wang and Siyi Xie won the gold medal with 467.82 points, and the Germans, Patrick Hausding and Lars Rudiger, who went last, executed impressive forward 4 ½ somersaults and scored high enough to overtake Team Mexico for bronze with 404.73 points.

This is Hixon’s second consecutive Olympic silver; in 2016 he and partner Sam Dorman were second in Rio.

After Dorman retired, Hixon turned to Capobianco.

“I asked him to get to that level and he did an incredible job,” Hixon said. “He worked his butt off and he became one of the best synchro divers in the world. I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he’s done to get here.”

Capobianco pointed to Hixon’s presence as a big part of the reason he’s advanced this far.

“I think a lot of it was just having someone to look up to and almost chase in practice a little bit; it was great to have the best diver in the country in your pool every day, just to have him to look up to and learn from,” Capobianco said. “He’s taught me so much about competing and being a world-class diver.”

U.S. divers Andrew Capobianco (left) and Michael Hixon won the silver medal in men's 3-meter synchronized springboard diving in Tokyo. (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)
U.S. divers Andrew Capobianco (left) and Michael Hixon won the silver medal in men's 3-meter synchronized springboard diving in Tokyo. (Photo by Sergei Bobylev\TASS via Getty Images)

The 21-year-old Capobianco is still a student at Indiana University, a seven-time All-American who is the reigning NCAA 3-meter national champion and now brings an Olympic medal to Bloomington for his senior year. Hixon, now 27, is also a Hoosiers alum, though the two are far from alone among IU athletes at the Tokyo Aquatic Centre. There are 11 current or former swimmers and divers from the school at these Games, seven of them with the United States.

Where other venues have been very quiet, the swimmers and divers and their coaches can attend events, so before the competition started and after every dive, Hixon and Capobianco heard a loud cadre of American teammates who were cheering and waving flags.

“When we were walking out for the [introductions], I heard them in the stands, they did just a quick ‘U-S-A’ cheer and that got me going and got me kind of ready,” Capobianco said. “It was amazing to have them up there after every dive.”

After two rounds, Hixon and Capobianco were tied for fifth. Their third dive, forward 2 ½ somersaults with two twists, got an 83.64 from the judges and was the highest-scored dive of the round. It put them into second place, and they were never in danger of losing the spot.

The pair pointed to their next two rounds as key to staying in second place.

“Andrew smoked his inward [inward 3 ½ somersaults] in the fifth round, so that was a good one for us. For us, the dive we do in Round 4 I struggle with quite a bit so to hit that first twister [reverse 1 ½ somersaults with 3 ½ twists] was good as well,” Hixon said.

After Hixon and Capobianco’s last dive, forward 4 ½ somersaults, one of the divers from the Russian Olympic Committee team couldn’t complete their forward 4 ½ and took a zero. As they waited for the Chinese team to execute their final dive, Hixon said he allowed himself a fleeting thought of what could happen if one of the Chinese divers made a mistake as the Russian had.

It didn’t work out that way — the Chinese dominate men’s and women’s synchro, winning three of the four events here — and Hixon and Capobianco are still thrilled with their finish.

After their final dive, Hixon was spotted kissing the base of the diving tower.

“It felt like last dive maybe ever, so saying thanks,” he said — though he later said “we’ll see” when asked if this Olympics was his last.

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