Daley’s long quest capped by golden performance in Tokyo

Thirteen years after his first appearance at Beijing Olympics, British diver claims ultimate glory with Matty Lee

We were chatting with some of the Irish rowers about how life was treating them in the Athletes’ Village, particularly with their schedule of events wiped out on Monday and Tuesday because of the typhoon warning, and perhaps who were the Olympic stars or legends they might be looking out if they got their chance.

"We're looking out for Simone Biles, " Margaret Cremen said with a smile, part of lightweight doubles crew with Aoife Casey. "That's our number one we want to meet. We saw Tom Daley a few times, that was cool."

That being British diver Tom Daley, who was just 13-years-old when he qualified for his first Olympics in Beijing in 2008, and was 14 years and 81 days when he got to compete – the second youngest Olympian in British sporting history

Those of us who also attended those Beijing Games can recall Daley being a novelty and certainly a curiosity, only perhaps not the star in the making or indeed legend he's become now; because at age 27, 13 years after a best place finish of seventh in Beijing, nine years after winning bronze in London, and five years after winning bronze again in Rio 2016, Daley struck gold in the synchronised 10m platform in Tokyo on Monday, with British partner Matty Lee.


Daley might well feel like an old man now compared to some other competitors in Tokyo. While he was winning gold with Lee, two 13-year-old skateboarders were fighting it out to the final trick to determine the winner of the women’s street competition.

Here, Momiji Nishiya of Japan looked to echo the winning performance of Yuto Horigome in the men's competition at the same park a day earlier.

She was just a few months older than Rayssa Leal of Brazil, and just about got the better of her too, Nishiya winning another gold medal for Japan, only not quite the youngest gold medallist; that distinction still belongs to Marjorie Gestring, a diver who won at age 13 years and 268 days at the 1936 Berlin Games.

As diving events go it was suitably close and exciting, Daley and Lee finishing with 471.81 points having never dropped out of the top two, ending up just 1.23 points ahead of China, with the Russian Olympic Committee third.

Still, it was only after Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen conducted their final dive that the British pair knew gold was theirs, ending China's golden grip on the event dating back to 2000.

Achieve anything

Daley has come of age in other ways too, his journey to Olympic glory hit by several setbacks along the way, the death of his father in 2011 chief among them.

Daley would later explain he hoped to one day be “half the dad my dad was to me”, and his Olympic gold arrived in his first Games since becoming a father to son Robbie (named after his dad) in 2018.

Because in truth for Daley this was also a first public moment of fulfilment since with his marriage in 2017 to the film producer Dustin Lance Black.

“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.

“In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.”

The number of publicly out LGBTQ athletes in Tokyo is at least 168, more than triple the number who participated in Rio 2016, and greater than the number who participated in all of the previous Olympic Games – summer and winter – combined.

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics