Incoming freshman Hailey Hernandez set to dive at Tokyo Olympics

Ethan Ferguson, Sports Reporter

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared as part of the July 20 flipbook.

Hailey Hernandez only knows one Japanese phrase — ‘Konnichiwa’ — and has never been to Tokyo. Nevertheless, she feels ready and excited to dive at this year’s Olympic games on behalf of the United States.

At just 18 years old, Hernandez will be the youngest female diver to represent Team USA before she officially enrolls at the University of Texas as a freshman biology major later this fall.

“I just feel so amazing, so proud of myself in all that I’ve accomplished over my years (and) knowing that all the hard work and sacrifices I’ve made have paid off,” Hernandez said.

At the U.S. Olympic Diving Trials held in Indianapolis, Indiana, earlier this June, Hernandez punched her ticket to the Games with a second-place finish in the women’s 3-meter springboard event with a total score of 926.55. While the recent graduate from Carroll Senior High School in Southlake, Texas admitted she competed in the event mainly for experience with little expectations of advancing, her talent and skill shone through.

“It’s such an amazing feeling being able to make that Olympic team being so young,” Hernandez said. “It has really been the icing on the cake and has set me up for the next four years.”

Hernandez will suit up alongside Krysta Palmer in the women’s 3-meter springboard for Team USA. A former University of Nevada diver, Palmer placed first in the event at trials with a score of 1011.95. With an 11-year age gap between the two divers, Palmer can serve as a mentor lending additional knowledge both in and out of the pool.

Hernandez has been practicing twice a day throughout the week with a mixture of time in the water, weights and other dryland activities.

“I’ve been dialing in and winding back down into training knowing that I still have a job to do and go out there and compete,” Hernandez said. “I’m just trying to go out there and do the best that I can do.”

For Hernandez, diving has always been a family affair. The Olympian said she started diving when she was just 7 years old as her brother, Nathaniel, started teaching her flips and tricks. Nathaniel is a former diver at Duke University.

“He was the one that (kind of) got me into the sport,” Hernandez said. “He’s been my biggest inspiration since day one.”

But it wasn’t just her brother who supported her dream. Hernandez credits her parents, Richard and Teresa, for bending over backwards to accommodate the diver’s hectic schedule. While Richard couldn’t attend all of Hailey’s meets growing up because of work, he was there when his daughter qualified for the Olympics. The look on his face after she qualified showed just how proud he was.

Unfortunately, spectators are not allowed at this year’s Olympics due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the region. But Hailey knows that her entire family will be on the edge of their seats watching her compete from home.

“My parents’ support has been so amazing,” Hernandez said. “They’ve driven me to all my practices and dealt with my crazy schedules since I was 7 years old. (And now, it’s) traveling all over the country and flying across the world with me to all my competitions.”