The United States placed two in the top 10 of the men's individual 3m final Tuesday night, when Kristian Ipsen finished seventh and Mike Hixon finished 10th, for the first time since 2000.
Very different approaches yielded similar results. Ipsen, a 23-year-old veteran who won bronze in the synchronized 3m (with Troy Dumais) in 2012, made a measured march to the final with lower degree of difficulty dives executed flawlessly. Hixon, a 22-year-old Olympic rookie who won silver in the synchronized 3m (with Sam Dorman) this year, attempted dives with a higher degree of difficulty more frequently, posting a wider spectrum of scores on his path to the final.
However, it's unclear when -- or if -- the two will compete together again. For Hixon, the taste of Olympic competition only whet his appetite for more.
"A lot of fuel for the fire right now," Hixon said. "Me and Sam want to turn around and be World champs next year and obviously I have a lot of individual goals as well."
But Ipsen is ready for some time off.
"I’m taking a significant break," Ipsen said. "We’ll see if that Olympic spark comes back, but I’m definitely going to take a break after this."
Hixon's most difficult dive was the forward 4.5 tuck (3.8 degree of difficulty), which he performed in every round, scoring his highest dive of the competition in the semifinal with a 91.20-point pass.
Ipsen is one of the few divers who can hit the "triple out," a forward 2.5 pike with three twists (3.9 degree of difficulty). He didn't break it out until the last round of the final, and he was very pleased to have executed it well (but maybe less so with the 89.70 score).
"I’m happy that I decided to switch my last round dive to triple out because I hit it and I think it scored more than I would have if I stayed with the double out," Ipsen said. "I haven’t hit (the triple out) all week. That was the first time all week that I hit it, so I think that was my face of shock. I was so happy to hit it. I was super stoked."
Both Ipsen and Hixon should be super stoked to show that they can compete with the best springboard divers in the world.
China is the world's current diving powerhouse. Chinese competitors have won 29 of 38 Olympic diving events since synchronized diving was installed in the Olympics for the 2000 Sydney Games for a remarkable .763 winning (gold) percentage.
For reference, Hall-of-Fame NFL head coach Vince Lombardi owns a career winning percentage of .738 and Hall-of-Fame NBA head coach Phil Jackson has a career winning percentage of .704.
The United States will need talented and poised representatives -- like Ipsen and Hixon -- in the 2020 Tokyo Games if they are to crack the podium.