Delaney Schnell, world bronze medalist, went six months between platform dives

Delaney Schnell
USA Diving
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Delaney Schnell‘s mom calls her younger daughter a perfectionist, which, in diving, is an essential trait. The label is not entirely rooted from the 21-year-old’s work ethic atop the 10-meter platform.

“My stories are more about crayons,” said Schnell’s mom, Cynthia.

When Schnell was 4 years old, Cynthia found her in a crying fit in her room beside a picture of Ronald McDonald she was to color in.

“She couldn’t find a specific yellow,” Cynthia said. “You know how there’s different color yellows? She wanted a specific color yellow for her Ronald McDonald picture. It took her like a half-hour to settle down because she couldn’t find that yellow.”

Cynthia still has the picture.

Sixteen years after that tyke meltdown, Schnell stood on a podium at the 2019 World Diving Championships. With a platform bronze, she became the first U.S. woman to earn a world championships medal in an individual Olympic-program diving event in 14 years.

Diving has been one of the core U.S. Summer Olympic sports, but the last American woman to earn an individual medal at the Games was Laura Wilkinson‘s stunning eighth-to-first comeback in 2000.

Schnell can end that drought next summer. If she does, it will come after a spring and summer in which she did not once mount what they call “the tower” in diving.

After college athletics facilities closed at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, swimmers found backyard pools, even lakes. Runners switched to grass fields, roads and hopping fences at the local high school track.

Most of the about 70 diving facilities with 10-meter platforms in the nation are university affiliated, including the only ones in Schnell’s native Arizona, according to USA Diving.

For Schnell, and other platform divers, the primary alternative was to train on 1- or 3-meter springboards in the area.

“What I’ve tried to convince her all along is while tower is a concrete base, the basic principles of diving typically do not change from springboard or tower,” said Dwight Dumais, her coach at the University of Arizona.

In late September, Schnell returned to her regular training location at the Hillenbrand Aquatic Center at Arizona, where she is a junior psychology major. It took another three weeks before she was ready to climb 32 feet up the stairwell to dive.

“Your body is not really acclimated anymore, and you have to, basically, work your way back in,” she said this week. “Ten-meter is a lot on your body. You can’t exactly just jump right into it.”

In a decade of diving, Schnell has never had trouble fighting the height-inducing fear of the 10-meter platform that mentally dogged other elites. She admitted to some nerves for the first dive back this month.

“But after getting it off, your body pretty much knows what to do,” she said. “I’ve been able to get all of my dives off and everything, so that’s pretty good news.”

Competitiveness is a trademark for Schnell, who started out as a gymnast. By age 10, she was talented enough to be invited to train for a week at the Karolyi ranch in Texas, which was years later shut down in 2018 after the Larry Nassar crimes.

Soon after returning from the ranch, Schnell wanted to quit gymnastics. She was burned out.

“For someone that’s 10 years old, that [gymnastics] was your life,” she said. “Ten-year-old me was like, I kind of want to be able to do other things.”

Her older sister, Reilly, was swimming at the time with an aquatics club. Schnell attended a practice, which led to an introduction to diving.

The first time she jumped off a five-meter platform, Schnell entered the water with her arms stretched out wide — poor form — smacking them on the surface. She vowed never to do it again. A few weeks later, she stepped back up there and realized she was better off the stationary platform than the bouncy springboard.

“It was just kind of a calling for me,” she said. “And also, as a gymnast, you’re used to doing everything yourself. Whereas the springboard helps you, you have to learn how to use the springboard. Gymnastics, it’s all you. It’s all how you pound off of the beams or the floors. So, a platform, it’s the same way.”

Schnell competed in her first Olympic Trials in 2016 at age 17, finishing sixth individually and second in the synchro event, missing the Rio team by one spot in the latter. She moved up to second individually at the 2017 World Championships Trials and placed 27th in her worlds debut in Budapest.

“Handling that pressure was a lot at that age,” she said. “I was going into my freshman year of college. It was pretty intimidating in front of all these amazing athletes. You’re like, wow, almost all of these people have been to the Olympics. I’m 18 years old, and this is the first time I’ve been here. It’s a little scary, yeah. Even still, it’s scary.”

In 2019, Dumais’ first season in Tucson, Schnell went from finishing fifth at the Pac-12 Championships in February to a bronze medal at the world championships in July.

“I was speechless,” said Dumais, who was with Schnell at worlds in Gwangju, South Korea. “It’s not because she couldn’t do it. It’s not that she didn’t have talent or potential to get on the podium at that particular juncture. It was, I had yet to see her put all of the pieces together.”

In particular, Schnell’s third of five dives in the final — the 207C, in diving jargon, or a back three-and-half somersault in the tuck position. It’s carries the highest degree of difficulty not only on Schnell’s list, but also for the dominant Chinese.

“Probably the hardest dive for women to hit consistently,” Dumais said. “You don’t even see half of the world do it. It’s just an unpredictable dive.”

Schnell ripped her entry in the biggest competition of her life, becoming the only non-Chinese diver to score more than 80 points on a single dive.

“I still remember coming up from under water and hearing the crowd going crazy,” she said. “I had no idea what happened because the adrenaline was so high. Did I really just hit that dive? I remember looking over at my coach, laughing almost.”

Schnell moved from sixth to third and ended up with bronze by four points overall, trailing only Chinese Chen Yuxi and Lu Wei. China won all 12 of the events it entered at worlds.

Schnell finished the season at the Pan American Games in August in Lima, Peru, then by hiking Machu Picchu. She redshirted the 2020 season in preparation for international invitational meets in the spring, followed by the Olympic Trials and the Tokyo Games.

But Schnell only competed in one of the prestigious World Series stops — in Montreal — before sports shut down. The University of Arizona aquatics center closed March 13. She wasn’t allowed back in until Sept. 14.

She didn’t do any dives off 10-meter platforms in the six months in between.

“I’ve always had other ways to train, but obviously platforms are not in the picture because there are only so many of those in the country, and it’s hard to find,” Schnell said, noting flipping and twisting in foam pits at a gymnastics center and diving off springboards at a Mesa high school pool. “I’ve just been using what I can.”

She’s targeting a domestic return to competition in December at a trials meet for the FINA World Cup in April at the Tokyo Olympic venue.

Schnell will fly from Arizona to Indiana, to train with her synchronized platform partner, Hoosiers freshman Tarrin Gilliland, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, and then to North Carolina for the meet, her first in more than nine months. Less than six months after that are the Olympic Trials, where the top two make the Olympic team individually.

“It’s important for me to not ignore the fact that this [break] is definitely a setback, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t a setback that anybody cannot overcome,” Dumais said in September, while noting he didn’t know how much training time Schnell’s top international rivals from China missed. “Most of those individuals [in the U.S.] have been locked down for at least four months, maybe even five. So, it’s pretty much a fair fight.”

MORE: What the U.S. Olympic diving team could look like in 2021

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U.S., China set for FIBA Women’s World Cup gold-medal game

FIBA Women's World Cup Basketball
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SYDNEY — Breanna Stewart and the United States used a dominant defensive effort to beat Canada and reach the gold-medal game of the FIBA Women’s World Cup for the fourth consecutive tournament.

Stewart scored 17 points and the Americans raced out to an early lead to put away Canada 83-43 on Friday, reaching a Saturday gold-medal game with China. The 43 points was the fewest scored in a semifinal game in World Cup history.

“Canada has been playing really well all tournament and the goal was just to come out there and really limit them,” said U.S. forward Alyssa Thomas. “We were really locked in from the jump with our game plan.”

China edged host Australia 61-59 in the later semifinal to reach its first global championship game since the 1994 Worlds, the last time it won a medal of any color. The U.S. beat China 77-63 in group play last Saturday, the Americans’ closest game of the tournament.

“Our goal was to to win a gold medal and we’re in position to do that,” U.S. coach Cheryl Reeve said.

The U.S. (7-0), which is on a record pace for points and margin of victory in the tournament, took control of the game early scoring the first 15 points. The Americans contested every shot on the defensive end as the Canadians missed their first nine attempts from the field. On the offensive end, Stewart, A’ja Wilson and Thomas basically got any shot they wanted.

“I think after that punch, it really took the air out of them,” Thomas said. “They didn’t know what to do with their offense anymore after that.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup Schedule, Results

Laeticia Amihere, who plays at South Carolina for former U.S. coach Dawn Staley, finally got Canada on the board nearly 5 minutes into the game making a driving layup.

By the end of the quarter the U.S. led 27-7. Canada had committed four turnovers — the same number the team had against Puerto Rico in the quarterfinals which was the lowest total in a game in 30 years.

The Americans were up 45-21 at the half and the lead kept expanding in the final 20 minutes. The win was the biggest margin for the U.S. in the medal round topping the 36-point victory over Spain in the 2010 World Cup.

Canada (5-2) advanced to the medal round for the first time since 1986 and has a chance to win its first medal since taking the bronze that year.

“We didn’t get it done today, but what we’re going to do is take this with what we learned today and how we can turn it up tomorrow,” Canada captain Natalie Achonwa said. “It’s still a game for a medal and it’s just as important for us.”

The U.S. has won seven of the eight meetings with Canada in the World Cup, although the last one came in 2010. The lone victory for Canada came in 1975.

The victory was the 29th in a row in World Cup play for the Americans, who haven’t lost since the 2006 semifinals against Russia. The Soviet Union holds the World Cup record with 56 straight wins from 1959-86. This is only the second time in the Americans’ storied history they’ve reached four consecutive gold-medal contests. They also did it from 1979-90, winning three times.

This U.S. team, which has so many new faces on it, is on pace to break many of the team’s records that include scoring margin and points per game. The Americans also continued to dominate the paint even without 6-foot-8 Brittney Griner, outscoring its opponents by an average of 55-24.

Amihere led Canada with eight points.

RECORD BREAKING

The low point total broke the mark of 53 that South Korea scored against Russia in 2002.

“We’re starting to build that identity,” Wilson said of the defensive effort. “We’re quick and scrappy and I think that’s our identity.”

The U.S. is averaging 101 points a game. The team’s best mark ever coming into the tournament was 99.1 set in 1994.

STILL RECOVERING

Kahleah Copper sat out after injuring her left hip in the win over Serbia in the quarterfinals. Copper landed hard on her hip driving to the basket and had to be helped off the court. She hopes to play on Saturday. Betnijah Laney, who also got hurt in the Serbia game, did play against Canada.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
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The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

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2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule, Results

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium 85, Bosnia and Herzegovina 55 Group A
11:30 p.m. Serbia 81, Mali 68 Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA 145, South Korea 69 Group A
2 a.m. France 67, Japan 53 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 95, Puerto Rico 60 Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia 75, Canada 72 Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 92, South Korea 73 Group A
11:30 p.m. China 81, Belgium 55 Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA 121, Bosnia and Herzegovina 59 Group A
2 a.m. Canada 88, Mali 65 Group B
3:30 a.m. Serbia 68, France 62 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 71, Japan 54 Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. USA 88, Serbia 55 Quarterfinals
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Canada 79, Puerto Rico 60 Quarterfinals
4 a.m. China 85, France 71 Quarterfinals
6:30 a.m. Australia 86, Belgium 69 Quarterfinals
Fri., Sept. 30 3 a.m. USA 83, Canada 43 Semifinals
5:30 a.m. China 61, Australia 59 Semifinals
11 p.m. Australia vs. Canada Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. USA vs. China Gold-Medal Game