Watching Jordan Windle execute a perfect dive from the 10-meter platform — analogous to jumping headfirst from a three-story building — you’d never know he was scared of anything.
“I’m afraid of heights,” he told NBC Asian America, “but I love putting on a show. Being able to fall from 10 meters and create such a little splash — the reaction is incredible.”
After placing second at the Olympic trials in June, the University of Texas at Austin senior will compete in the men’s 10-meter platform preliminary at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. The 22-year-old diver, who was adopted at 18 months old from Cambodia by a single gay American man, has spent the last 15 years preparing for this moment.
“On the 10-hour flight here, I could not sleep,” Windle said. “I was just sitting there super anxious and was actually shaking a little bit thinking about having to compete in front of millions of people watching. But the first day I got in the pool, all those nerves kind of disappeared, because in my mind and in my heart it felt like I was meant to be here.”
Windle, who was the youngest person to ever qualify for the Olympic diving trials at age 12, has made waves in the sport since he started diving at age 7 at an aquatics summer camp in South Florida.
Tim O’Brien, the son of U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame diving coach Ron O’Brien, immediately spotted how Windle naturally pointed his toes and positioned his shoulders behind his neck. He believed Windle could be a national champion one day.
Windle went on to be a six-time junior national individual champion, a seven-time senior national champion and a two-time NCAA champion, setting a men’s platform diving record at the Big 12 Championships in 2018.
Since the start of his diving career, he’s been compared to the Olympic legend and activist Greg Louganis, who is also adopted and has served as a mentor to Windle for many years. When Windle and his father co-authored the children’s book, “An Orphan No More: The True Story of a Boy,” Louganis wrote the foreword.
As a transracial adoptee, Windle said, he was bullied as a child for having a gay father “and just being different in general.” A longtime ally to the LGBTQ community, Windle uses his platform to educate and encourage others to support marginalized people and was part of the “It Gets Better” anti-bullying campaign when he was younger.
While millions of Americans will root for Windle as he competes this week, he’s also something of a hero in his homeland, and the first diver of Cambodian descent to compete in the Games.
When Windle first returned to Cambodia in 2016 as a national champion, his arrival caused a media storm. His diving exhibition in Phnom Penh was attended by hundreds of local schoolchildren and orphans, he said, to whom he spoke via a translator.
Since making the U.S. Olympic diving team, Windle said, he has seen an influx of Cambodian fans following him on social media.
“It really is heartwarming to know that people are willing to reach out to me and share some of their stories, as well as some of the similarities we have, because that creates a stronger bond with where I came from and makes me want to help them even more,” said Windle, who had the Cambodian flag tattooed on his left bicep on Thanksgiving Day when he was 18.
The Olympian plans to return to Cambodia in the future and hopes to start a nonprofit diving program in the Southeast Asian country one day. “Once I visited, it showed me that there are people out there looking for opportunity,” he said. “I can share my story and give them that opportunity to take a chance and live a great life in the future.”
But for now, his focus is on enjoying the remaining days of his Olympics journey and performing the exceptional dives he’s worked toward since childhood.
“When you’re diving, everything slows down within an instant,” Windle said. “You’re technically in the air for less than two seconds, but when you’re spinning and doing your dive and you’re in the moment, it slows down and you’re able to see colors and see people — it really is an extraordinary sport.”