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In our Thrills in Tokyo series, we’ll highlight some of the summer Olympics biggest competitions. More than just focusing on the teams, we’ll look at the colleges from which these athletes hail.
Combining the exuberance and drive of youth with the experience and polish of a veteran benefits just about any team, whether in an office or at the Olympics. And so it is with Team USA’s Women’s Diving team, where 18-year-old newcomer Hailey Hernandez and previous Olympian, 29-year-old Katrina Young, hope to make a splash in the sport.
Hernandez took the diving world by surprise when she clinched a coveted spot during the Olympic trials in the women's 3-meter springboard, coming in second. With that, Hernandez became the youngest diver on Team USA.
Heading to the University of Texas at Austin this fall, Hernandez actually didn’t expect to find herself in Tokyo this summer. Initially, she hoped to compete in the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024. And certainly, she had the credentials to do so: She won gold at the 2019 Junior Pan American Championships and silver at the 2018 Junior World Championships, among other accolades. But the rings called sooner than she planned.
Despite often having a lower degree of difficulty in her dives, Hernandez is known for her impeccable consistency. And that’s what accounts for the high scores she gets.
At one point, this future biology major nearly abandoned the sport. In middle school, she actually wanted to quit, she has said, as she struggled with the fear of learning new dives and taking her performance to the next level. But her brother Nathaniel, now a celebrated diver for Duke University, convinced her to stay the course. And let’s say she’s happy she did.
“It’s always a dream to be a competitive athlete and going to the Olympics,” she told NBC Dallas-Fort Worth before heading to Tokyo. “But when you actually accomplish these dreams, it’s unreal. It’s just the best feeling in the world. It’s knowing that all the hard work you put in actually paid off.”
Katrina Young, on the other hand, has had her share of international experience, both on the individual and the synchronized 10-meter platform. Her second straight Olympics, Young represented the U.S. at the 2016 Rio games—though she only finished 13th in the 10-meter platform semifinals there. She did, though, go on to win bronze in the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in both the 10-meter synchronized platform and the mixed team events. (As for her age, just to give some context, the oldest woman to win an Olympic gold medal for diving is China's Wu Minxia, who was 30 years and 271 days when she won in the 3-meter springboard final in Rio.)
Young also happens to come from an Olympic family. Her grandmother, Elaine Silburn, competed in track and field at the 1948 London Games representing Canada. And her family also has its share of divers. As a child, she followed one sister’s footsteps into the sport and her brother soon followed. Surprisingly, she graduated from Florida State University with a degree in music.
“I have the most supportive family,” she told NBCOlympics.com. “My mom and dad encouraged my siblings and I to pursue our dreams since we were very young.”
As for the rest of team, it’s off to a good start. Earlier this week, Delaney Schnell and Jessica Parratto won a silver medal in the Women’ Synchronized 10-meter platform, the first Team USA has ever won in the event.
For sports excitement, turn to the Olympics. For driving thrills, click here to see what Nissan has to offer.
Catch full Olympic coverage on NBC, including the Women’s 3-meter Springboard preliminary rounds tomorrow, Friday, at 12:00 pm, ET.