Tom Daley: Boy who became man in front of world

British diver ready to steal show again as he seeks gold in the 10m platform

British diver Tom Daley is competing in his third Olympic Games and is now one of the senior figures in the GB diving team. Photograph: Matt Dunham/aAP Photo

British diver Tom Daley is competing in his third Olympic Games and is now one of the senior figures in the GB diving team. Photograph: Matt Dunham/aAP Photo

 

It seems impossible that Tom Daley is still only 22 years old given that he appears to have been diving for GB ever since the Mitchell brothers ruled the roost on Albert Square.

But it’s easy to forget that the Plymouth man has virtually grown up in front of the nation in his swim trunks, competing at the Beijing games at the absurdly young age of 14.

Daley’s bronze medal in the men’s 10m platform synchronised diving at the start of the Rio games bookended a traumatic Olympic debut in China when Daley and his synchronised partner Blake Aldridge both dived and plummeted in their event and were scarcely on speaking terms at the end.

Daley had come to Beijing as one of the most profiled British athletes out there: the youngest gold medallist at 13 in the European championships in 2008 and a medal prospect for Beijing.

Camera crews

Aldridge and Daley were a conspicuous partnership: the older athlete was 26 and ostensibly the senior figure but as they progressed to the final, he stood silently by as the teenager happily answered questions for camera crews around the world.

But when it came to the final, the enormity of the occasion seemed to hit Daley and his shaky dives were judged accordingly.

Afterwards, Aldridge’s clipped comments just about masked his frustration at having his own Olympic dream tethered to a teenage celebrity.

“He had a pop at me before the last dive, when we were sitting down. I saw my mum in the audience and I asked her to give me a call and Tom went to me, ‘Why are you on the phone? We’re still in the competition and we’ve got another dive to do.’ That’s just Thomas – he’s over-nervous and that’s how it was today. Thomas should not be worrying about what I’m doing, but today he was worrying about everyone and everything and that to me is really the sole reason why he didn’t perform today.”

Wry smile

Aldridge might have allowed himself a wry smile when Daley atoned for that evening by claiming bronze with Dan Goodfellow, when the pair combined for a back three-and-a-half somersault pike on their sixth and final dive, earning a terrific score of 89.64 which secured their bronze position on day three of these Games.

“Top bombing” was Daley’s chirpy assessment of the dive. Daley’s popularity transcends his sport and his country: with the exception of Usain Bolt, no foreign athletes received such an excited reception as the Englishman.

Beijing was just a hiccup on his career: by 15 he was the youngest world champion in his sport and a year later he won gold at the Commonwealth Games.

Having won bronze at the London Olympics in the individual event, Daley is now the first British diver to possess multiple medals.

But it is Daley’s story as much as his ability which his public has found so compelling.

He was thrust before the British public at a precocious age and they learned that he lost his mentor and father and, he has often stated, his hero: Rob Daley was just 40 when he died from brain cancer.

School bullying

That trauma, along with a period of acute school bullying, established Daley as a vivid sporting figure in British life and one who often popped up on the sofas of television talk shows.

After London, Daley endured a miserable year and then suddenly announced he was in a gay relationship with a Hollywood screenwriter, Dustin Lance Black.

In an era when sportsmen were just beginning to openly declare homosexuality, Daley’s revelation was significant.

Now in Rio, he is one of the senior figures in the diving team and will hope to extend Great Britain’s stunning medal tally in the men’s individual 10m platform, which begins today.

Like all divers, he puts in ferocious training shifts: he squats like a power lifter, gets through 11 gym sessions and a ballet class per week; dry-dive practice on trampolines; as well as the endless repetitions: it can take an elite diver three full years to perfect a dive.

As Team GB vies with China for second place on the overall medals board, Daley’s performance acquires a wider significance. Don’t rule out his capacity to steal the show.

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