Olympic veteran divers Hixon, Parratto qualify for Tokyo with synchro partners Capobianco, Schnell


As two synchronized diving events came to an end within minutes of each other at the U.S. Olympic Trials Friday night, it was two 2016 Olympians who confirmed their return to the Games alongside younger teammates who will make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo.

Delaney Schnell and Jessica Parratto won the women’s synchronized platform after a three-round, 15-dive total score of 930 points. They led Katrina Young, also a 2016 Olympian, and Murphy Bromberg by 23.46 after the semifinal, and maintained their lead throughout the final, ultimately winning by 41.46 points.

“It’s totally overwhelming, it doesn’t even feel real yet,” Schnell told reporter Kelli Stavast on NBCSN. “I’m shaking. It’s been my dream since I was 4 years old and in gymnastics.”

Minutes later, Andrew Capobianco and Michael Hixon finished the men’s synchronized springboard final with a cumulative 1289.37 points, with a margin of 120.57 over Gregory Duncan and Grayson Campbell.

“It’s insane,” Capobianco said of making his first Olympic team. “All thanks to Michael and all the hard work we put in, so I’m just really excited.”

The four join Alison Gibson and Krysta Palmer, who won the women’s synchronized springboard on the first night of finals in Indianapolis.

Schnell, 22, and Parratto, 26, had competed together at three meets in 2019 but had no plans to team up again for Olympic Trials.

That changed when Parratto’s partner of much of the past four years, Tarrin Gilliland, withdrew due to injury.

“It’s crazy,” Parratto said of making the team. “We came together weeks ago, realizing that we’d be a great pair, and I’m just so proud of this girl next to me. I couldn’t be happier right now.”

The daughter of Mike Parratto, an accomplished swimming coach whose athletes include 12-time Olympic medalist Jenny Thompson and current Olympic hopeful Regan Smith, Parratto competed at the Rio Olympics in both the individual (placing 10th) and synchro events (seventh with Amy Cozad Magaña).

Both Parratto and Schnell are in contention for individual platform spots on the Olympic team as well, sitting in third and fourth heading into Sunday’s final. The U.S. will send two divers in each individual event. Schnell, the 2019 World bronze medalist in individual platform, is seven points out from second place and competing in two Olympic events, while Parratto is nine points behind her in fourth. Young and Bromberg lead those standings.

“I am definitely ready for this, I feel like I’m the best I’ve ever been, and obviously she’s amazing as well, so I’m just really excited to fight to get on that podium in Tokyo,” Parratto said.

Capobianco, 21, and Hixon, 26, have been preparing for Olympic Trials for two and a half years. The Hoosiers teamed up immediately after Sam Dorman‘s retirement in late 2018.

Hixon, both a 2010 Youth Olympian and 2016 Olympian, and Dorman had won the Olympic silver medal in their international debut together in Rio, plus a World Series bronze medal in 2018.

Once Indiana coach Drew Johansen paired then-freshman Capobianco with redshirt senior Hixon, the new team quickly won the 2018 Winter Trials together. They have since earned the 2019 Pan American Games bronze medal, plus a bronze at a 2019 World Series event.

Capobianco and Hixon finished fourth at the 2021 World Cup in May, securing the U.S. an Olympic spot in the men’s synchronized springboard event in Tokyo.

Both divers will aim to qualify in the individual event on Sunday. Hixon is currently in third, less than a point out from Campbell in second. Capobianco is some 48 points behind him in sixth. Four-time Olympic medalist David Boudia leads that event after the semifinal.

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Football takes significant step in Olympic push

Flag Football
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Football took another step toward possible Olympic inclusion with the IOC executive board proposing that the sport’s international federation — the IFAF — be granted full IOC recognition at a meeting in October.

IOC recognition does not equate to eventual Olympic inclusion, but it is a necessary early marker if a sport is to join the Olympics down the line. The IOC gave the IFAF provisional recognition in 2013.

Specific measures are required for IOC recognition, including having an anti-doping policy compliant with the World Anti-Doping Agency and having 50 affiliated national federations from at least three continents. The IFAF has 74 national federations over five continents with almost 4.8 million registered athletes, according to the IOC.

The NFL has helped lead the push for flag football to be added for the 2028 Los Angeles Games. Flag football had medal events for men and women at last year’s World Games, a multi-sport competition including Olympic and non-Olympic sports, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Football is one of nine sports that have been reported to be in the running to be proposed by LA 2028 to the IOC to be added for the 2028 Games only. LA 2028 has not announced which, if any sports, it plans to propose.

Under rules instituted before the Tokyo Games, Olympic hosts have successfully proposed to the IOC adding sports solely for their edition of the Games.

For Tokyo, baseball-softball, karate, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were added. For Paris, skateboarding, sport climbing and surfing were approved again, and breaking will make its Olympic debut. Those sports were added four years out from the Games.

For 2028, the other sports reportedly in the running for proposal are baseball and softball, breaking, cricket, karate, kickboxing, lacrosse, motorsports and squash.

All of the other eight sports reportedly in the running for 2028 proposal already have a federation with full IOC recognition (if one counts the international motorcycle racing federation for motorsports).

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Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. It is produced by Religion of Sports, the venture founded by Gotham Chopra, Michael Strahan and Tom Brady. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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