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How Focusing On The Details Helped Diver Delaney Schnell Quash A U.S. Medal Drought

By Scott McDonald | Aug. 19, 2019, 9:21 p.m. (ET)


Each month, Team USA Awards presented by Dow celebrates outstanding achievements of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes. Diver Delaney Schnell won Female Athlete of the Month for July 2019 after becoming the first woman in 14 years to win a world championships medal in 10-meter platform. In Schnell’s Diamond Club feature, presented by Dow, she walks readers through her day and the different aspects she focuses on in training.

It usually takes less than a second and a half for a diver to launch from a 10-meter platform and twist and turn their way into a pool of water. With such little time between takeoff and diving into the water, there’s hardly time to think.

That’s why preparation and training are paramount for someone like Delaney Schnell. The Arizona diver last month became the first American woman in 14 years to win a platform medal at the FINA World Championships. She nailed her most difficult dive to move into third place during the third round, and she eventually stood on the podium with a bronze medal.

Schnell, 20, said standing on the medal podium that night in Gwangju, South Korea, was beyond her expectations.

“I was not going into the meet expecting to be on podium,” said Schnell, who improved from 27th in her world championships debut in 2017. “I knew I was capable of it, but didn’t expect it. I went into the final and felt very good. It just felt right.”

Schnell was in sixth place after her first two of five dives in the finals. She then attempted a dive she has sometimes struggled with — the back 3 ½ tuck. She hit it. Schnell scored 82.50 points on the dive to move into third.

That dive ultimately helped her medal, but it took more than just a few reps in practice to make it work. It took years of training on mats, practicing on 5- and 7-meter platforms, working on her breathing, going through several coaching changes and even reverting back to her gymnastics background.

Schnell practices her diving anywhere from three to five hours each day. It’s more than just repetition; it’s muscle memory for a sport that allows little time to think when you’re in the air.


Delaney Schnell competes in the the woman platform final at the 2019 USA Diving Senior Championships on May 25, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana.


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Here’s a typical day of training for Schnell, a junior at the University of Arizona who has been diving since she was 10.

In the morning: Schnell goes to the swim center to work on drills that help get her timing down. These drills can be on mats or from the lower platforms.

In the afternoon: The work gets harder after lunch as she concentrates on skills and detail work. One example is working on her handstands. She said that when she does a handstand on the platform, it feels like she is holding her stand long enough, but that her coach told her she needs to hold it longer.

The routine: Since she can’t be on the 10-meter platform all of the time — because she said it’s harder on the body and it’s more strenuous to do as many reps — she works on some of her same dives in the same directions from the 3-, 5- and 7-meter distances.

“Just getting the reps off helps it stay fresh in your brain,” she said. “We’re always working on the small things, the basics.

Schnell also does work on mats and trampolines, including flips and body movements through the air.

After practice: Three times a week she hits the weight room after the second practice for strength training.

Post-workout: She gets an ice bath and occasionally rehabilitation on her hip or knees when she needs it.

Video study: Schnell said she watches a lot of her dives on video to get a better idea of what she looks like in the air.

“It’s very useful to look back,” she said. “Your coach may tell you that you’re doing something that needs to be corrected, and you may think you have corrected it until you see the video.”

Schnell said that could be something as simple as keeping her hands down during a dive instead of reaching out early. It could mean the kick in her legs could hold a tiny fraction of a second more, or even the way she holds her arms while she’s in mid-air.

Looking forward: Schnell said she will likely seek an Olympic redshirt for the upcoming collegiate season to compete at FINA World Series events, for which she has already qualified, and continue working toward earning a spot on her first Olympic team at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Diving in June. Should she make it to Tokyo, she could become the first American woman to win a 10-meter platform Olympic medal since Laura Wilkinson won gold 20 years earlier.

Scott McDonald is a writer from Houston who has covered sports for various outlets since 1998. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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Delaney Schnell