By Dave Gil de Rubio
A little over a week after Andrew Capobianco and partner Michael Hixon took silver in the finals of the men’s synchronized 3m springboard at the Tokyo Olympics, Capobianco was accorded a hero’s welcome at the Hicksville Athletic Center. Mineola-born and a Wantagh resident until his family moved to the South when he was 14, the red-haired Olympian’s Long Island roots run deep despite having graduated from Holly Springs High in North Carolina. As he stepped out of an SUV that came at the tail-end of a Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) escort, Ed Sheeran’s “Castle On the Hill” played on overhead speakers while assorted local officials clutched American flags and hundreds of Police Athletic League campers cheered and chanted “USA, USA, USA.”
In addition to snagging a silver medal, Capobianco qualified for the individual 3m dive and was the only American to advance to the finals, finishing 10th out of 12 divers from an original field of 29. Accompanied by parents Darlene and Mike Capobianco, his brothers and grandparents, the amiable athlete was greeted by longtime family friend George Taylor III, who was Capobianco’s coach when he started diving at 11, having spent the prior few years excelling at gymnastics. Also on hand were Nassau County Supervisor Laura Curran, NCPD Commissioner Patrick Ryder, former Congressman Peter King, Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor Joseph Saladino, Councilman Tom Hand, Legislator Rose Walker and Councilwoman Laura Maier.
Capobianco’s athletic pursuits started when he was eight and threw himself into being a gymnast. By the time he was in middle school, he had won a level 8 Junior Olympic national title on floor exercise for his age group in 2013. His diving accomplishments were equally impressive. As a middle schooler, Capobianco broke a 22-year-old Nassau County high school diving county points record under Taylor. For his old coach, this success came as no surprise, as he became a bit emotional while sharing his experiences as he spoke to the crowd gathered inside the athletic center.
“I told Andrew’s dad from day one that I knew Andrew was going to be someone very incredible,” he said. “I have an article from 2012 where I was quoted as saying that he would be in play in 2020, so I actually called it. Andrew is probably one of the best athletes I ever coached. I really have to thank his parents. He’s very humble, was always an excellent kid to coach, got along with everybody and is just a real stand-up athlete. I’m really grateful to be part of his life and to have been his coach.”
As each person took the podium, the message of discipline, humility and focus was hammered home, whether it came from Curran (“Someone saw a young boy with talent and nurtured that talent and you, with the discipline and work habits, made it happen.”), Saladino (“Kids, you can see through this example that through hard work in sports, school and everywhere, you too can earn the medals of life.”), Walker (“As Andrew will tell you, he didn’t get here just because he wanted to dive. He got here through his hard work and dedication”) or former Capobianco gymnast coach Kiran Krowl (“I am so very proud of him, not just because he’s the Olympic silver medalist, but because of the teammate he is, person that he is and kid he is.”)
With both parents having served with the NCPD, public service is part of their son’s DNA. Capobianco himself was very straightforward in his duties as a role model while informing the PAL campers of the sacrifices necessary to reach his goals.
“You want to have balance in your life, so when your parents tell you to go to school and do your homework, I’m sorry to tell you that you have to go to school and do your homework, because you’re not going to become as good as you want to be in your athletics if you’re not doing well in your academics,” he said. “For me, [becoming an Olympian] took a lot of hard work and some great people behind me. I also practice four hours a day, six days a week.”
Currently competing for Indiana University Bloomington, Capobianco has been a seven-time All-American, and as a red shirt junior, won his second NCAA 3m crown and second Big Ten Diver of the Year. With the next Summer Olympics set for 2024, the lithe 21-year-old is firmly setting his sights on Paris. But in the meantime, he’s full cognizant of the role growing up on Long Island played in helping him achieve his goals.
“The community I grew up in was so incredibly supportive of my dreams the whole time,” he said. “Just going to school in Wantagh, all the kids knew what I was going for and everyone was cheering me on the whole way. Especially now when I was at the Olympics, I felt so much love from the community on Long Island, more than anywhere else. I’m just so grateful.”