Tokyo Olympics: Kiwi diver Anton Down-Jenkins overcomes COVID-19 to earn Games selection

New Zealand will take a male diver to the Olympics for the first time in almost 40 years, with the selection of Anton Down-Jenkins for the upcoming Tokyo Games.

The 21-year-old Wellingtonian has been based in the US for the past three years, where he competes for University of North Carolina.

"I'm super proud to represent New Zealand," says Down-Jenkins. "We don’t have as much resource in diving as some of the big powerhouse nations, so that just makes me even more thrilled with this achievement. 

"It’s so awesome to know that my hard work has paid off."

Down-Jenkins will become the first Kiwi men’s diver to compete at the Olympics since Mark Graham and Gary Lamb at Los Angeles 1984.

He secured his spot at the Diving World Cup Olympic qualification event in Japan earlier this month, placing 10th in the 3m springboard - New Zealand’s best-ever finish at the competition.

“I just went into the competition wanting to have fun and I told myself, ‘if I qualify for an Olympic spot, that’s great, but if it doesn't happen, no worries’.

"My headspace and mindset is something I’ve really been working on lately, and it really paid dividends at that competition."

Olympic selection is fitting reward, after a challenging 2020 for Down-Jenkins, who contracted COVID-19 in August.

"It was pretty rough," Down-Jenkins admits. "It took me a while to get back to where I could perform, but I’ve been great for the past four months and can’t wait to get back to Tokyo."

Down-Jenkins is also a member of the rainbow community and is passionate about being a sporting role model for LGBTQ+ people.

"We don’t see too much LGBTQ+ representation in sport, so I want to be part of that representation for my community, and help break down the idea that someone's sexual orientation or identity is a barrier for success in the sporting realm," he says.

Elizabeth Cui also qualified for a women’s diving spot, but will not compete in Tokyo, as she is pregnant with her first child.