With two NCAA titles plus medals at the Olympics, World Championships and Pan American Games at just 22 years old, diver Andrew Capobianco has the potential to be an American great in the sport and have his name etched alongside legends like Greg Louganis and Sammy Lee.
Olympic silver medalist Andrew Capobianco seemed destined to be a star athlete from a young age, but not necessarily as a diver. Like many in his sport, the Indiana University redshirt senior started his athletic career in gymnastics. It was his first love, and like any young athlete, he had dreams of making the USA junior national team and eventually becoming an Olympian.
But soon, diving and its similarities called.
Capobianco had instant success on the boards. In his first year competing, he broke a 22-year old Nassau County (N.Y) high school record—as a seventh-grader! He extended his local prowess to the national level and won the 2011 USA Diving Age Group National Championships on the 1-meter springboard.
At the same time, Capobianco was enjoying stardom in the gym as well. In 2013, the Mineola, N.Y. native won the junior national championships in floor exercise. That would be his last time competing in gymnastics.
All-In For Diving
Diving and gymnastics require full-time commitments to achieve success at the highest level, and despite being among the best in the United States at both, Capobianco knew as he got older, he had to pick one to dedicate his focus. It was a tough decision, as he had grown to love the two sports equally. The choice came down to which one he could achieve the most sustained success.
“Gymnasts are not very tall, and they’re built pretty big, which was not really the way my body was growing,” he said. “So, it was a pretty easy kind of decision for me because it was kind of like, well, which one will I be better at in the long run?”
After deciding to dedicate all his time to diving, his family wanted to ensure he was in the best position to achieve his full potential. As a result, they packed up and moved from New York to North Carolina so their son could train with three-time Olympic diving coach Drew Johansen.
Johansen, the head diving coach at Duke at the time, had just led the U.S. Olympic team in London the previous summer, where two Blue Devil divers, Abby Johnston and Nick McCrory, picked up medals. For Capobianco to have the opportunity to work with such an esteemed coach was massive for his short- and long-term development.
Unfortunately, the pair never spent any time together in Durham, as Johansen accepted an offer to lead the Indiana University diving program the same summer the Capobianco family moved. Although he was disappointed that he would not work under his tutelage, he relished being surrounded by some of the nation’s and world’s best divers.
Over the next three seasons, Capobianco stormed to three consecutive junior national titles on the platform and one each in 1-meter and 3-meter. His impressive performances landed him trips to the 2014 and 2016 Junior World Championships and as a member of the 2015 Junior Pan American team.
Next Step: Indiana University
A mainstay on Team USA Diving at the junior level, when it came time for deciding where to go for college, all of the coaches wanted Capobianco on their team. Having Olympic aspirations, he narrowed down his list quite early. He looked at three to five schools, but once he took a trip to Indiana, he knew it would be his home for the next four to five years. While he loved the team, campus and academic programs at Indiana, the opportunity to be coached by the man who was a big part of why he was a diver sealed the deal.
“He (Johansen) was the two-time head Olympic coach at the time, and (being an Olympian) was kind of an aspiration of mine, so I knew that was kind of a path that I could go down if I came (to IU).”
With high expectations from the USA Diving community, Capobianco had a lot to live up to from the get-go in the Big Ten and NCAA. He showed considerable promise in his first season, scoring two podium finishes at the Big Ten Championships. He backed up his performances at the conference level with a bronze medal on platform at the 2018 NCAA Championships. He ended his impressive freshman year with three All-America honors and as a CSCAA Scholar All-American.
Capobianco caught the attention of many after his exceptional maiden collegiate campaign, including redshirt senior teammate at the time, Michael Hixon. The 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic silver medalist’s synchronized diving partner, Sam Dorman, had recently retired, so Hixon was looking for a new partner to join him on the road to Tokyo. With Capobianco developing into a world-class diver, both Johansen and Hixon thought joining forces could reap success for the two.
“They (Hixon and Johansen) had a meeting with me, and we talked about the possibility of doing synchro. It wasn’t set in stone, but both of them did have a lot of belief in me and my abilities, and they wanted to try it out and see how it was going to go.”
The opportunity was a game changer for the seven-time All-American’s career.
“That just meant a lot to me to hear that the previous Olympic silver medalist in the event wanted to do synchro with me,” Capobianco said. “It also kind of got me a little fired up because I saw that as a very good chance to hopefully make the Olympic team in 2020.”
Oozing with confidence, Capobianco had a breakout 2018-19 season. At the conference champs, he won silver medals in the 1-meter and 3-meter springboard events. He carried his scintillating form over to the national scene, becoming the first Hoosier to win the 3-meter competition at NCAAs in 38 years.
He capped his sophomore year with an eventful international schedule that included trips to the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, and the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.
At 2019 Worlds, he competed internationally with Hixon for the first time, and the two finished eighth in the 3-meter synchro. He brought home some hardware, though, teaming up with two-time Olympian Katrina Young for a third-place finish in the mixed team event.
He paired up with Hixon once again on 3-meter at Pan Ams, and the two won their first medal together, capturing bronze. Capobianco got his first taste of individual hardware on the international stage with another third-place finish in the 1-meter springboard.
The Covid Challenge
With his performances in 2019, his Olympic dreams started looking more and more like a reality. To ensure he put himself in the best position possible to qualify for Tokyo, Capobianco decided to redshirt the 2019-20 season to focus on making the U.S. Olympic team.
“It’s something that (Johansen) had done with his athletes in the past to kind of give some extra focus into your training and not really worry too much about school and competing and dual meets.”
Everything was going to plan for Capobianco until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and postponed the Olympic Games. While disappointed at first, he looked at the positive side of the situation, and how the extra year could be beneficial.
“I got a whole extra year of confidence and a whole extra year of doing my dives under my belt and kind of seeing where I stack up.”
He most certainly used the year to his advantage. He re-entered the collegiate scene and dominated the competition to defend his NCAA title in the 3-meter. After successfully returning to competition for the Hoosiers, he turned his attention to the Olympic Trials, where he and Hixon needed to win to qualify for Tokyo.
While the two were favorites heading to Indianapolis, the pandemic presented a major barrier in their preparation. Planning on retiring after Tokyo, Hixon was enrolled in graduate school at the University of Michigan in the fall of 2020. With the Olympics postponed, it meant, other than at the Tokyo World Cup a month before, the duo did not train together leading up to Trials.
“It honestly came down to a lot of trusting in our training from before,” Capobianco said.
With Capobianco riding high on confidence from the NCAA season and Hixon having depths of experience, the pair pulled off the win at Trials. The victory meant an Olympic invitation.
“It was really special to do that with him and look up at my parents as well as his parents and see all the hard work we put in and that they’ve put in over the years to get to this point,” Capobianco said.
To add to his achievements in synchro, Capobianco also secured an individual Olympic berth with a second-place finish in the 3-meter springboard. With Team USA having won medals at the last two Olympic Games in the event, the pressure was on the pair to continue the American synchro streak. Despite that fact, their focus was on diving to the best of their abilities, no matter where it put them in the standings.
“We just kind of knew that we had to do the best that we could,” Capobianco said. “The goal was to dive our best and see where that put us.”
Their best was good enough for silver in Tokyo, extending the USA medal streak in the event.
A Bright Future
Now an Olympic medalist, Capobianco is hoping to cap off his collegiate diving career with another individual NCAA title. As a redshirt senior, he also hopes to lead his team to a first national championship since 1973. Beyond college, he’s looking to compete at the Olympics in Paris in two-and-a-half years and perhaps the Los Angeles Games in 2028.
“I’m planning to train until 2024, and seeing where that takes me, and, depending on how that goes, possibly continuing diving until 2028 as well, just as long my heart and my body are still in it,” he said.
Jesse Marsh is a member of the current Swimming World intern class and a member of the Villanova University men’s swim team.