U.S. Women's Divers Crumble from First to Last in Synchronized Event — but Choose to Keep Smiling
Partway through their five-round synchronized diving final in the Tokyo Summer Olympics on Sunday, Team USA's Alison Gibson and Krysta Palmer took a moment, standing just behind the diving board, to breathe.
Inhale, exhale. Smile. Win or lose, they were together.
The gold medal-worthy dives Gibson and Palmer performed in the first and second rounds, which saw them briefly in first place, were derailed by the rest of their showing — in particular, a disastrous third and fourth dives from which they could not recover.
But the pair, who have been competing together for several years, chose to keep on smiling for their Olympic debut.
They danced and mugged for the cameras just as they had upon first entering the aquatic center.
"We're just so happy and blessed to be here, honestly, and I think going into it we just wanted to have fun and stay as relaxed as possible," Palmer, 29, told PEOPLE afterward. "That's what helps us dive, and so keeping that — keeping who we are — in the mix of our diving is what we wanted to do."
Standing beside her, Gibson, 22, added: "And I think the thing is, obviously we do this sport 'cause we love it and that's the core of it."
"Some days are good, some days are bad, but in the end we're doing it 'cause we love it," Gibson said. "And I think that's something that we kept reminding each other: We're here and we're having fun no matter how good or bad it goes."
China, a dominant force in international diving, won gold in the synchronized 3-meter springboard with Tingmao Shi and Han Wang.
Canada's Jennifer Abel and Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu earned silver and Lena Hentschel and Tina Punzel, of Germany, took bronze.
Gibson and Palmer said they had no regrets about the high difficulty of their program.
The five dives they chose were, combined, harder than any of their competitors — including a closing dive that mixed two-and-a-half somersaults with two twists, so that they spun up and down and side to side as they plummeted to the water.
But the judges were left wanting by their execution and synchronization.
"We wanted to take the risk," Palmer told reporters afterward. "These dive match up the best out of all of our dives, and to come out here and do that is exactly what our game plan was."
"We're very capable of doing all of these dives really well, so I don't think—we're really comfortable with that list," Gibson said.
Palmer next competes in an individual event, the 3-meter springboard, on Sunday.
She said she'll be missing Gibson but thinking of her still.
"We have so much fun competing together, and I think if I can just keep the fun and the fun spirit, I think that's what's gonna help me," Palmer said. "So whether I'm with her or not, in my next event I'm still gonna act like she's here."
To learn more about Team USA, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Tokyo Olympics now on NBC.