When FINA announced that men and women would be diving side-by-side at its 2015 world championships, Murphy Bromberg’s reaction was, well, mixed.
“I thought it was kind of funny, initially,” admitted the six-time U.S. champion. “I thought it might be fun to try, but men being able to jump higher and do bigger dives, typically, I wondered how that was going to work.
|Abby Johnston and Jordan Windle compete in the 3-meter mixed synchro at the USA Diving Synchronized National Championships in April 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
“But I was surprised. It works out pretty well.”
Actually, it couldn’t have worked out better for Bromberg and diving partner Mark Anderson. The duo from Texas’ Longhorn Aquatics crushed the competition to win the 10-meter mixed event at the recent USA Diving Synchronized National Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, and by doing so qualified for worlds this July in Kazan, Russia.
Jordan Windle and Abby Johnston also will be part of mixed synchro’s world championships debut after winning the 3-meter springboard at nationals. And being a part of diving’s newest toy has Windle excited.
“It’s the challenge — I enjoy trying something different,” he said. “That’s a lot of fun for me. I also think people are going to think it’s something cool. It’s definitely different.”
The new events began being rolled out during FINA’s World Series and Grand Prix competitions — Windle and Johnston actually warmed up for the U.S. meet with a silver-medal performance at the Leon Grand Prix the week before. Divers obviously welcome the extra medal possibilities, but there’s more to their enthusiasm than that.
“It’s another opportunity to do what you love to do,” said Bromberg, “and it’s something to keep the sport moving forward.”
Mixed diving won’t be the only new twist to this year’s world championships. Mixed duet synchronized swimming will also be on the program, and it’s brought back U.S. pioneer Bill May. The sport’s female-only barrier to the Olympic Games and other world events had sent him into a competitive retirement a decade ago. He made it through the first phase of qualification for Kazan in February.
Diving took a big leap forward when men’s and women’s synchro events were added to the Olympic program in 2000. Mixed synchro isn’t on the Olympic horizon yet, but its quirky appeal could make it a natural addition.
At the heart of that is the challenge cited by Bromberg: bridging the physical gap that exists between male and female divers when similarity of height off the board and platform factor into the scoring.
“The vertical jump — there’s a difference for sure,” she said. “Mark can jump a lot higher than I can just standing on the ground. But really, it works out a lot better than you might think. Maybe it’s more of a challenge for the springboard divers because of the dynamics of the board.”
|The 10-meter mixed synchro medalists, led by Murphy Bromberg and Mark Anderson (center) at the USA Diving Synchronized National Championships in April 2015 in Greensboro, N.C.
It is, Windle acknowledged. But the only significant adjustment he’s made in training with Johnston is ratcheting back his hurdle into the dive to a hop “because the step hurdle would overwhelm her.”
“What I’ve noticed so far,” Windle said, “is if you were to put a 20-year-old woman with a 20-year-old man, the man’s dive is going to be more powerful. We have a little more muscle, a little more strength; the women are more graceful. It probably works to put a younger guy with a more mature woman diver to even out the physical differences.”
Which just happens to be the makeup of his duo. Johnston, 25, won a silver medal in women’s 3-meter synchro at the London 2012 Olympic Games with Kelci Bryant. The Duke medical student will represent the United States in international competition for the eighth time in 10 years. Windle, 16, just won his first U.S. senior title last year — and yet he said it’s Johnston who often reminds him to “just have some fun.”
Indeed, matching personalities might be an underrated part of the mixed events. Bromberg, at least, enjoys that her partner “is a little goofy.
“We call Mark the ‘chill bro,’” she said. “He doesn’t show much emotion or get overly excited. But he has this thing where he says, ‘Let’s go,’ to pump himself up and it makes me laugh every time.”
Something else makes her laugh a little, too. Mixed competition allows “opposite dives” — an inward by one diver while the partner does a reverse, for instance.
“From my view, it looks like he’s going to flop onto his stomach,” Bromberg said. “It freaks me out to see it. But it’s going to be cool for people to watch.”