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Daley Dives For Gold To Defeat Demons

Jul 21, 2009  - Craig Lord

SwimNews is, as the title suggests, a swimming website. But here's a tale worth telling from a neighbouring pool:

'He fought back, he kept smiling, he's held his head high and did not give up. He has not let you beat him. He has come out winning. He is a world champion. We're immensely proud of him.' - Rob Daley's message to Tom's tormentors

Below his deep tan, Tom Daley, at 15 years and two months the first world diving champion in history to hail from Britain, blushed, put his head in his hands and muttered "Oh no, don't make me cry - how embarrassing." 

He was not referring to his audacious and dramatic nabbing of the 10m world crown from under the noses of the Olympic champion, the Olympic silver medallist, the world cup champion and the world junior champion on the last of six dives at the magnificent Foro Italico Olympic complex in Rome. Nor the fact that he had become the second-youngest world diving champion ever since world championships began back in 1973.

 The cause of the champion's trepidation was the man who had sneaked past security and stolen the microphone. "Could you say [sic] the media that you represent," said the master of press conferences as questions started to flow for the stunned second-youngest world diving champion in history and a teenager with an eye on a home Olympic crown in London 2012. "I represent Tom Daley," said Rob, tears spilling down his face, the phone in his pocket ringing to the theme of the Benny Hill Show. "I'm his father. Tom, come and give me a cuddle." 

   No one objected. Daley junior, the youngest European diving champion and youngest member of the Britain Olympic team last year, had entered the fifth round of six dives in fourth place and promptly overtook Chinese Olympic silver medallist Zhou Luxin to find himself in line for the bronze with a dive to go. Daley watched Zhou put in a solid last dive that carried a degree of difficulty that Daley has yet to tackle in competition. 

Displaying the heights of composure common among some of the legends of his sport down the years, the Plymouth schoolboy could hardly have found a better moment to execute a reverse three and a half somersaults with tuck with such precision: soon after he had sliced through the surface at 60mph like a hot knife clean through butter, the scoreboard flashed up four perfect tens and three 9.5s. 

Total: 539.85. The bronze was his. The two divers left, Olympic champion Matthew Mitcham, of Australia, and the Chinese rival who had pipped Daley for the world junior crown last year, Bo Qui, both had a mind-boggling two-and-a-half somersaults with two-and-a-half twists ahead of them. The manouevre carries the highest degree of difficulty: 3.8. As Daley would soon say: "It's crazy, they only needed 7.5s and 8s to stay ahead. I can’t believe what I’ve just done.”

  Nor what the others had done. Mitcham messed up and fell below Zhou, on 529.50. The silver was Daley's. He stood open-mouthed, staring at the scoreboard in disbelief. Bo left the boards. Experts and layman alike knew that the Chinese diver had tried a little too hard. His mistimed entry sent water splashing across the surface. Surely Bo had done enough. A hushed silence fell over the very pool in which Brian Phelps and Elizabeth Ferris had won Olympic bronzes for Britain back in 1960. Bo's tally flashed up: 532.20. Daley was the last to leap for joy: he fell to the floor, his feet as numb as the rest of him as screaming teammates and Daley's coach Andy Banks rushed to hug the champion.

Klaus Dibiasi, Italian diving legend of the 1960s and 1970s, was on hand to note that any one of the top four could have won the gold in a final that saw four men finish within 10 points of each other.

“I can't believe what I've done,” said Daley. “I was obviously giving it my very best, but I honestly thought I would finish fourth as the guys ahead of me were all diving superbly. I would have been happy with fourth as my only aim was to dive well but to go from fourth to bronze to silver and then gold was unbelievable.

“I woke up today thinking I would just enjoy the competition, it is just an amazing sensation. It was unthinkable what happened, I just fell to the floor.

“I didn't know what to do. All of the hard work from everyone has really paid off. I am totally stunned.”

So was his father. Rob Daley broke through barriers of his own to get to his son. Little wonder: the Daleys have lived through a time of torment. After returning from the Olympic Games and winning silver behind Bo at the world junior championships, Britain's diving prodigy became the victim of bullying at Eggbuckland Community College in Plymouth. Daley was "shoved, cursed at, berated and spat at", said his father. Matters came to a head when one of the bullies threatened to break the divers legs and bring an end to one of Britain's great Olympic hopes for 2012. The diver was moved to calmer waters at Plymouth College. 

Daley senior said: "It's been hell for all of us. And for Tom especially." He had a message for the bullies: "If they can understand this, I say this to them - he fought back, he kept smiling, he's held his head high and did not give up. He has not let you beat him. He has come out winning. He is a world champion. We're immensely proud of him."

 The roller-coaster finish to the final was almost too much to bear, he said: "When he nailed his last dive I thought 'he's got a medal' at the world championships. Then came the silver and I thought 'please don't let this stop'. When the Chinese entered the water, it seemed like an eternity for the score to come up. Then it was gold and I had a flashback of the 15 years of his life. I was stunned."

  The journey is far from over. Banks introduced Daley to dives of the highest degree of difficulty late last year but then backed off in order to "consolidate the work we had done and give Tom time to settle and adjust" on a steady journey to London 2012 that began in earnest when he became the youngest national junior 10m diving champion ever at 10 years of age in the midst of rivals up to 18 years old.

By March last year, Daley had progressed to become the youngest European diving champion ever, two months before his 14th birthday. The baby of the 2008 Olympic team and a poster boy for 2012, Daley is looking to his home Games in London: "It's crazy. When I got bronze I was so, so happy. When it was silver I was like 'oh, my God, it's unbelievable'. When I got the gold I just fell to the floor. I just didn't know what to do. I have worked so hard and made so many sacrifices. It's all been worth it. Now I just want to do the same in London 2010."

 Banks smiled andconfirmed that Daley would return home to start to work on some of the “high tariff” dives that, until today, had given his rivals the edge. “But we will continue to monitor his development and take account of his growth and changes to his physique. It was a pretty good end to consolidation.”

 He added: “His career has followed a dream-like pattern. He always says he loves to get in the mix and thrives on the adrenalin. And there is was. Wow!”.

 The youngest world champions in diving remain Sun Shuwei (CHN), 14 years and 11 months in 1991 when leaping to victory off the 10m board, and his teammate Fu Mingxia, 12 when she claimed the 10m crown at those same championships before FINA imposed a minimum age restriction of 14 years. Fu went on to win four Olympic titles at three Games.