Andrew Capobianco competes in the men's 3-meter springboard final on Aug. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Andrew Capobianco knew if he could make the final of the individual 3-meter springboard at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, he had a chance of doing well.
But the 21-year-old American diver could not quite pull it off. Although his first two dives put him in medal contention, he was fighting a back injury and ended up tenth.
“This afternoon didn't go as well as I would have hoped,” Capobianco said. “But I'm really proud of the way that I handled myself these last few weeks. It’s been a little bit of a struggle mentally and physically.”
Two-time defending world champion Xie Siyi from China stole the show, the 25-year-old scoring eights and nines on most of his dives and putting up a huge score of 558.75 points. His teammate Wang Zongyuan, a 19-year-old former junior world champion, claimed the silver medal with 534.75 points. Xie and Wang won gold in the synchronized 3-meter springboard competition last week.
It was the sixth time in the past seven Olympiads that a Chinese diver has claimed gold in the men’s 3-meter springboard competition. Jack Laugher from Great Britain — the silver medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games — tallied 518 points for the bronze medal.
The U.S. once dominated the men’s 3-meter springboard at the Olympic Games, winning gold medals in every Olympiad but two from 1920-1992. Since the Atlanta Games in 1996, the Chinese have taken over the podium, winning gold in every Olympic Games but one.
Mark Lenzi was the last U.S. male diver to win a medal in 3-meter springboard; he claimed bronze at the 1996 Olympic Games.
Team USA divers have been more successful in men’s synchronized 3-meter springboard, with back-to-back silver medals in 2016 and 2020, and bronze in 2012.
Capobianco and veteran Michael Hixon won the most recent Olympic silver medal last week. It was Hixon’s second Olympic medal in the event. And it was Hixon who, in 2018, invited fellow Indiana University diver Capobianco to be his synchro partner after Sam Dorman, his partner at the Rio Games, retired from diving.
Hixon and Capobianco quickly made their mark. Among other titles, they won the Pan American Games Lima 2019.
“To have one of the best divers in the country, in the world in your pool every day to push you and get you going was really special,” said Capobianco, who added that he would likely not have made it to the Tokyo Games without Hixon’s help (and certainly not in synchro!).
“I'm the type of person who needs to be pushed in practice,” added Capobianco, “and he definitely did that for me so I'm really grateful.”
Capobianco is also inspired by his twin brother Matt. The two were born eight weeks prematurely and spent the first month of their lives in the neonatal intensive care unit. Matt was born with autism and died at one point after their birth but was revived. Then in high school, Matt started having seizures.
“Through the grace of God and with some help from my parents putting him into early intervention, he is not on the spectrum anymore,” said Capobianco. “Luckily he has now passed having seizures as well.”
Matt is currently in pharmacy school at the University of North Carolina.
“Every time he goes through something, he comes back even better and stronger,” said Capobianco. “He's just so inspirational to me because if people saw him 10 years ago, they wouldn't have thought that he'd be as successful as he is now.”
Capobianco was a top junior diver when he came to Indiana in 2017— a big leap from his tough beginning. As a kid, Capobianco started flipping and twisting on a backyard trampoline, then became an elite junior gymnast who dreamed of becoming an Olympian.
One summer day when he was 10, Capobianco was playing around on the diving board of a local pool and caught the eye of a diving coach, who invited the young gymnast to join the diving team. Within a year, Capobianco was winning diving competitions against older kids.
At Indiana University, Capobianco won the NCAA D1 3-meter springboard titles in 2019 and 2021 and credits collegiate diving with helping him bridge from the junior ranks to the world class level.
“You're competing against some of the world's best divers [about once a month],” he explained. “There are international divers who come to NCAA schools. So it's really great for exposure and getting used to competing at a high level.”
At the 2021 U.S. Olympic Trials, Capobianco finished second in 3-meter springboard, beating his hero, four-time Olympic medalist David Boudia. The result put Capobianco on his first Olympic team.
But then Capobianco injured his back in the weeks leading up to the Tokyo Games and could not practice all of his dives, namely his back and reverse dives.
“I was coming in with a little bit less confidence on those dives and trying to rely on some past competitions,” he explained. “It's just consistency for me on those dives, and I just wasn't feeling as confident as I would have liked to.”
Still, he dove well enough to qualify for the final — one of 12 divers to move on from the semifinal. He scored mostly sevens and eights on four of his six dives (the ones he and Hixon had performed in the synchro competition). But his scores in the reverse and back received threes, fours, and fives (out of 10).
As he exited the Tokyo Aquatic Center, Capobianco confessed that he was relieved. He is leaving Tokyo as an Olympic medalist, and he will return to Indiana for his final year of NCAA eligibility.
“Right now, I’m excited for some rest,” he said, “but feeling very confident leading into 2024. I'm excited to see what I can do.”