Anton Down-Jenkins is turning in his speedo. The diving heartthrob announced Sunday he’s stepping away from the boards, despite training for Paris 2024.
Down-Jenkins, who represented New Zealand in the 2020 Olympics, says he’s retiring without any regrets.
“I recently decided to end my campaign through to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games and while I’m sure a lot of people are confused by the timing, it couldn’t feel more right,” he wrote.
“I’ve accomplished so much more than I ever thought possible as an athlete in the sport of diving. From qualifying for the Olympics to competing in an Olympic final, after Tokyo I had ticked off every single goal I had ever set out to achieve in sport, something not many people can say they ever do.
“I’m so proud of myself for pushing through for as long as I have, but my dreams have changed and there are so many things that I am excited to do that just don’t involve being an athlete. I’m still going to be involved in the sport, now just from the pool deck
”It’s been the most amazing experience having done all I have, and I am so so so grateful for all the support I’ve received and all the people I’ve met because of this sport.
”Thank you to everyone that has been with me along this wild ride, and stay tuned.”
Down-Jenkins, 24, last competed at the World Championships in Japan — his first trip back to the country since the 2020 Games. Though he didn’t take home any medals, he savored the experience.
“Far from the performance i was hoping for, but that’s sport!” he posted on Instagram. “Glad to be back on the world stage.”
While Down-Jenkins will no longer be competing, he isn’t walking away from the sport. The legendary UNC diver is returning to the program as a graduate assistant for the 2023-24 season.
“I really do love passing on my knowledge and because the feeling of diving is so fresh,” he told the Daily Tar Heel, “I feel like it lets me provide an athlete perspective through the coaching role.”
Down-Jenkins knows the power of strong coaching first-hand. He credits UNC’s head diving coach, Yadiel Gamboa, with helping him get through the Tokyo Games. New Zealand’s first Olympic diver in 37 years, Down-Jenkins says he felt like an imposter at the Games, despite diving since he was a teenager.
At first, he struggled, and says Gamboa provided him with the support he needed.
“He did the best he could do with how stressed I was and just told me to trust the process,” said Down-Jenkins. “We’ve been through it, put in the work, and I think we both kind of knew that when I got on the board as competition started I’d be fine.”
He wound up bouncing back, finishing a respectable 8th in a field of 29.
When the Games were over, Down-Jenkins was candid about his struggles.
”By far the most mentally stressful, challenging, and draining few weeks of my entire life. I don’t think anything really prepares you for the pressure you experience here, but I’m more than grateful to have finished such a difficult experience with a positive outcome,” he wrote on social media.
Due to New Zealand’s lack of diving programs, Down-Jenkins knew we would have to compete elsewhere in college. He originally attended the University of South Carolina, before transferring to UNC.
Early on, Down-Jenkins recognized diving is about more than the competition. The first step to succeeding in sports is enjoying it.
At regional competitions, he noticed the close-knit community at Chapel Hill, and wanted to be part of it.
“A big part of why I wanted to transfer was because I wasn’t having fun diving and competing,” said Down-Jenkins. “And then coming here, [Gamboa] really wants us to work hard, do what we have to do; but if we’re not enjoying it along the way, what’s the point?”
Down-Jenkins fed off the team’s convivial environment, earning All-American honors and being named ACC Men’s Diver of the Year for two straight seasons.
In addition to his role as a graduate assistant, Down-Jenkins will be working toward a master’s degree in exercise science.
After the last few years, Chapel Hill feels like home, even though it’s halfway across the world from New Zealand.
He can’t wait to spend more time on campus, and dispense his knowledge to the next generation of divers.
“I’m just stoked that I get to continue being a part of [the team] and help all of the current divers and divers that are going to join our team in the future to have an amazing experience here [like] I did,” he said.
So far, Down-Jenkins’ coaching career is off to a strong start. UNC’s swim and diving program is off to a 3-0 start on the men’s side and 2-0-1 on the women’s side.
There are multiple ways to make an impact in sports. And as Down-Jenkins is finding out, they’re all fulfilling in their own, special ways.
We can’t wait to keep rooting him on, whether he’s wearing a speedo or coach’s gear.
The stud looks great in both!