At U.S. Olympic Diving Trials, generations and medalists clash for Tokyo spots
USA Diving had quite the unpredictable cycle since the last Olympics in 2016.
David Boudia, the best American diver over the last decade, took a year off, sold houses, came back, suffered a concussion and switched from the platform to the springboard.
Laura Wilkinson, the last American woman to win Olympic gold in 2000, came out of a six-year retirement, aiming to compete internationally for the first time since 2008.
Delaney Schnell and Sarah Bacon became the first U.S. women to earn individual world championships medals since Wilkinson in 2005.
They’re the headliners at the Olympic Trials, which start Sunday in Indianapolis. A full TV and live stream schedule is here.
The top two divers per individual event and the top synchronized team in three events (the U.S. failed to qualify an Olympic spot in men’s synchro platform) make the team for Tokyo.
With help from NBC Sports analyst Cynthia Potter, a look at the competition:
Boudia, the Olympic champion in 2012 and bronze medalist in 2016 in platform, won the U.S. title and finished fifth at worlds in 2019 in his first full year after switching to the springboard. Other prominent platform divers shifted to the springboard late in their careers as it’s easier on the body. The last American to compete in the Olympics in both platform and springboard over his or her career was Mark Ruiz, who did both in Sydney in 2000.
“If David dives reasonably, he has an edge,” at Trials, Potter said. “He has such an incredible brain for competition. ... His timing and his rhythm and his balance, I don’t think they have to be at their best, but I think he’s got to be pretty good at the Trials.”
The rest of the field includes a pair of Rio Olympians led by Michael Hixon, the most experienced U.S. springboard diver on the top level. He placed 10th at the Rio Olympics and made the last three world championships teams. Steele Johnson, who earned synchro platform silver with Boudia in Rio, also switched to the springboard but did not compete on it in individually at 2019 Nationals while coming back from injuries.
Andrew Capobianco and Jordan Windle are also contenders, each looking to make his first team for a global championship in individual springboard.
Synchro figures to be a two-team battle between Boudia and Johnson and Hixon and Capobianco.
Bacon, a 24-year-old Indy native, may be the best U.S. diver right now. In 2019, she earned world championships silver on the 1m springboard (not an Olympic event). She followed that with another silver on the 3m Olympic height at the FINA World Cup in Tokyo last month, finishing between the same two Chinese divers as at worlds.
“She was pretty much unflappable,” at the World Cup, Potter said of a diver who overcame two shoulder surgeries, a concussion, stress fractures in her back and mental struggles. “I don’t see anybody else in her category on springboard [at Trials].”
A healthy Kassidy Cook, a Rio Olympian, would be favored for an Olympic spot, too. But she withdrew from the individual event at the World Cup with a shoulder injury (though still competed in synchro with Bacon). She is still on the entry list for both events at Trials.
That opens things up for Brooke Schultz, who made the last two world championships teams and was third at 2019 Winter Nationals. And Krysta Palmer, who has four tenths more difficulty on her dive list than anybody else.
Bacon and Cook are favored to grab the synchro spot.
The lone event without a returning Olympian competing at Trials. David Dinsmore, third behind Boudia and Johnson at 2016 Trials, has four wins and a runner-up in national-level meets in this Olympic cycle. His sixth-place finish at the 2017 Worlds was the best individual result for a U.S. man at the meet. Injuries curtailed his training in the past, but the lack of accomplished depth in the event puts him in a good spot to finish in the top two.
“Dinsmore has a really good international reputation,” Potter said. “The judges like it, and so do I.”
Brandon Loschiavo was the only man to beat Dinsmore at a national-level meet in this Olympic cycle. He did that in 2019, then placed higher than Dinsmore at that summer’s worlds (eighth to 12th).
Windle, adopted from a Cambodian orphanage after his birth parents died when he was a baby, could make a bigger splash in the platform than the springboard. He owns college titles on both, though he performed better on the springboard at this season’s NCAAs for the University of Texas.
Schnell was the surprise 2019 World bronze medalist after placing 27th at worlds in 2017 and fifth at the Pac-12 Championships in February 2019 for Arizona. But her Olympic spot is not assured as women’s platform, a weak event for the U.S. at recent Olympics, may be its deepest at Trials.
All three Rio Olympians are entered -- Amy Cozad Magaña, Jessica Parratto and Katrina Young. So is another Olympian: Wilkinson, the gold medalist in 2000 who last competed internationally in 2008. Wilkinson, now 43, announced her comeback in 2017 but was set back by injuries. Trials will be her first meet against the nation’s best. She has the same dive list as Schnell, Parratto and Young (albeit different orders).
“You just can’t leave out the name Laura Wilkinson,” said Potter, who expects Wilkinson to make the 12-diver final, and see what happens from there in cumulative scoring. “I haven’t watched her compete, but I know her competitive brain somewhat.”
In synchro, Schnell and Parratto and Young and Murphy Bromberg are the top teams. Bromberg is also a factor individually after missing the most recent Olympic and world teams by one spot.
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