After just surviving the cut in the preliminaries by finishing 16th, the diver from New Zealand executed a winning strategy in the semifinal round to make his way to the final.
He ended up advancing several spaces on the leaderboard, finishing eighth behind gold medal winner Xie Siyi of China.
The 21-year-old New Zealander, who identifies as gay, was exultant after clearing the preliminary round and took to Instagram to express his delight with the result:
During the semifinal, Down-Jenkins displayed a disciplined approach, executing a series of dives that ranked comparatively low on difficulty level. But because he was able to perform everything in his program successfully, Down-Jenkins gradually racked up a higher score with each successive dive.
The end result was a score of 424.20 points and a berth in the final round, where he amassed a total of 415.60.
Considering that this was Down-Jenkins’s first Olympics, it was nothing less than a sterling performance. Adding to the pressure, Down-Jenkins was also the first New Zealander to compete in Olympic diving since 1984 and had been diagnosed with COVID-19 earlier in the year.
Admitting to feeling “a bit overwhelmed” during his first week in Tokyo, Down-Jenkins looked to Simone Biles and her decision to withdraw from Olympic gymnastics for inspiration to get his mind in order:
“I was really impressed with [Biles] for taking those steps to withdraw for the sake of her mental health. That took a little bit less pressure off me knowing that the greatest of all time sometimes has those days.
“That was just so awesome to see that such a high profile athlete was putting her mental health first. To see other people struggling, it wasn’t just me, that was really interesting to see and it helped me a little bit.”
With his mental health prioritized, Down-Jenkins accomplished something great in his first Olympics and marked himself as a diver to watch in the future.