The sun wasn’t up yet, but the son was, at least for the moment.
Andrew Capobianco climbed into the back of the family Toyota in Wantagh with his pillow and blanket. His dad, Mike, started up the car and started out with 11-year-old Andrew on the long road to the next diving meet.
The early-rise drives kept on going after the family’s move two years later to Holly Springs, North Carolina. Andrew was bound for practice or a meet. Those memories brought lyrics to Mike’s mind of a Phillip Phillips song called "Home."
"Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home."
"It was kind of like our theme song," Mike said. "We traveled everywhere together. I still remember driving him around and then I’d wake him up for breakfast. He was just this little crew cut kid. Through the grace of God, he’s been given a gift."
Early Olympic dreams
This month, Andrew will be headed to his biggest meet yet. He will be diving in with a worldwide talent pool at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. That gifted kid of two now-retired Nassau County cops, Mike and Darlene, has grown to be 21-year-old Andrew Capobianco, U.S. Olympian.
"For me, it’s just a dream come true," he said. "I’ve been dreaming about this for really about as long as I can remember, when I started gymnastics when I was 9. … It’s crazy. I’m excited for the experience."
Capobianco failed to make the Rio Games in 2016, but he qualified for these Games at the Olympic Trials in Indianapolis last month in the 3-meter springboard and with partner Michael Hixon in the 3-meter synchronized event. The synchronized event at the Tokyo Games is scheduled for July 28, and the individual event starts with prelims and semifinals on Aug. 2. The medal round is Aug. 3.
"I do think that we do have a shot at gold," Capobianco said. "We’ll have to kind of be on our ‘A’ game, but we’re working hard, not taking our foot off the pedal just because we made it. So I think that we do have a shot at medaling.
"The same with individual. I feel very confident going in. I think that my best can stack up with anyone else in the world’s best in that event."
From one springboard to another
Back in the fall of 1999, there was a bigger challenge. Capobianco and his fraternal twin, Matthew, were born eight weeks prematurely at a Mineola hospital and were placed in the neonatal intensive care unit.
"Andrew was in the NICU for three weeks, struggling to make it, and here we are," said Mike, who has three boys, including older son Christian. "Andrew for three weeks, Matty for five weeks. Matty actually died the day he was born and they had to bring him back."
Andrew started out at BK Gymnastics in West Babylon under coach Kieran Krowl and won a Junior Olympic national floor exercise title in 2013 before concentrating on diving.
His diving days stem from a chance encounter. Capobianco was 10 and on a school trip to the Newbridge Road Park pool in Bellmore in 2010. He said the diving coach there, Lauren Murphy, spotted him "playing around on the diving boards and invited me to join the diving team for that summer."
That led to George Taylor III entering his life.
The former Marine and college diver built a strong foundation across two years as Capobianco’s coach with the East Meadow-based Long Island Divers U.S. and AAU club team and the Wantagh High School team.
Capobianco struck gold in his first national meet, winning as an 11-year-old at junior age-group nationals in Tennessee in 2011. In 2012, Taylor predicted an Olympic future.
It was with Wantagh in February of 2012 when Capobianco became the first seventh-grader to win the Nassau County championship. His score broke the county record. Then he repeated as an eighth-grader. He beat his record that season, too.
"He was just an easy kid to coach," Taylor said. "The kid had such great form and was so focused."
Then he moved.
"When Andrew left, I actually found a nice spot and I actually cried," Taylor said. "Good tears, though. I said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ "
Capobianco won two North Carolina state titles with Holly Springs High and competed for the Duke Diving Club under coaches Katie Hazelton and Nunzio Esposto. Now Capobianco is a seven-time All-American and two-time Big Ten Diver of the Year with Indiana. His second NCAA individual 3-meter title came as a redshirt junior this year.
In late 2018, Hoosiers and Olympic diving coach Drew Johansen paired him with Hixon, a synchro silver winner at Rio in 2016 with Sam Dorman, who retired. Hixon and Capobianco quickly clicked. They teamed for a bronze at the 2019 Pan American Games.
"I feel like I am the bridge with two great divers," Hixon said last month at the Trials.
Capobianco has usually trained six hours a day for six days a week the last four years at Indiana. He will try to make it pay off in gold.
"I know there will be a lot of excitement going into it and a lot of support from back home," Capobianco said. "So I think that the major thing is just remembering all the people back home who are cheering for me and praying for me to do my best."
Understanding Capobianco’s highest scoring dives
Capobianco described the front 4 1/2 dive he does in both synchronized and individual competition.
"That’s our highest degree-of-difficulty dive and definitely the one that we can count on the most. So we like to put it last because if we do need those extra points to try to get on the medals or try to win that gold, we can kind of rely on that to push us up there.
"The front 4 1/2 is basically you are going forward and you’re spinning forward, so it’s just like if you do a front flip, but you’re doing 4 1/2 flips and it’s in the tuck position. So knees bent and you’re pulling your legs in."
In the video below, which starts at the 2:51 mark, you can watch Capobianco execute the 4 1/2 at last month's Olympic qualifiers:
Another of Capobianco's key individual dives is the reverse 3 1/2.
"It’s one that I’ve kind of gotten a lot more comfortable with in the past few years. So that’s one where if I hit that one, I definitely feel confident moving forward, and that kind of brings my whole list of dives together," he said. "That’s the dive that I’ll definitely be looking to hit if I want to get up there into the medals in individual.
"The reverse 3 1/2 is also you’re going forward, so your body is moving forward, but you’re spinning backward. Some people call it a gainer. You’re doing 3 1/2 flips and then that’s also in the tuck position. So legs bent, knees pulled in."
The video below starts at the 23-second mark and shows Capobianco doing his reverse 3 1/2 dive at Olympic qualifiers:
Capobianco’s 3 keys to successful synchronized diving
Diving isn't always an indvidual thing. With synchronized diving, two people most operate at the same time, the same rate and in the same motion. It's a team thing, and as Capobianco said, "you can’t put any blame on anyone else."
Eleven judges score each synchronized dive. That's a lot of eyeballs looking at every twist, flip, pike, and landing as well as the timing. Three judges score one diver's performance, and three other judges score the second diver. The five remaining judges score the pair's synchronization.
Capobianco will team with Hixon in the men's 3-meter synchronized diving at the Olympics on July 28, live at 2 a.m. Eastern and available afterward as well online and on TV. He offered three keys to a successful diving duo.