The Big Front was just too much for Tom and Pete
21:29 GMT, 30 July 2012
As always, it’s the hope that kills you. So it was at the Aquatics Centre on Monday when Tom Daley and Pete Waterfield were dominating the might of China.
For a few ecstatic minutes we dared to dream. Those first three dives on their list of six barely caused a ripple in the water. They caused a cacophony in the stands.
So near yet so far: Daley and Waterfield missed out on a medal
But they missed out on a medal because the glue came unstuck on their fourth dive – the so-called Big Front. Daley slightly under-rotated and Waterfield clearly over-rotated. They slipped from first place to fourth. It was a position from which they never budged, behind China, Mexico and America.
Waterfield said: ‘After that fourth dive I actually said sorry to Tom. He just said, “Don’t worry. We’ve got a big dive coming up”.’
My view, having watched the pair prepare for the Olympics over the last two years, is that the Big Front turned out to be too much of gamble. They step up to the 10 metres fearful of it (hardly surprising to us vertigo-challenged mortals when you consider it is a forward four-and-a-half somersault with tuck – a fly-by-the-seats-of-your-Speedos dive).
The reason they do it is because in diving the degree of difficulty is factored into the score. It is a winner when executed successfully.
Alexei Evangulov, the performance
director, was greeted by blank faces when he suggested the pair should
add the Big Front to their list. ‘It was mad,’ said Daley, who thought
it literally impossible to accomplish.
Out of sync: The Big Front was just too much for the British pair
‘No,’ countered Evangulov, a former Russian champion. ‘I am telling you the world of diving is moving on and we cannot stay in our comfort zone. Look at the Chinese.’
Yes, the Chinese divers are setting new standards. They are bred in sports schools – funded automatons. But on Monday their gold medal pair, Yuan Cao and Yanquan Zhang, did not do the Big Front.
They instead performed clinically brilliant dives of almost similar difficulty and won the prize they all wanted. They were under pressure and did not flinch. Daley and Waterfield did. It was the opposite of what Daley had predicted.
In truth, despite the public profile
that has given Daley nearly half a million Twitter followers, a bronze
medal was all that could realistically be expected of them here. The
form book suggested as much. As for the gold, apart from the
expectations being briefly raised, it always belonged to a one-nation
fiefdom. Once the diving was over, the synchronisation was exemplary as
Daley and Waterfield faced the media with perfect choreography.
Exemplary: Both divers were disappointed and humble when they met the media
In Beijing four years ago, Daley and his ex-partner Blake Aldridge arrived apart, one after the other. Aldridge had unbelievably phoned his mum mid-competition then blamed a 14-year-old Daley in the post-competition analysis.
This time the two men both said: ‘We are a team. We win together and lose together. Full stop.’ Daley, 18, added: ‘Gutted. So sorry everyone but we tried our best.
‘Our first two dives were the best of the competition and then the third dive was one of our best as well, so after three dives we were on the highest score we’ve ever got.
‘But then on the fourth dive we missed and in this level and in this field you can’t afford to miss any dives.
home crowd did really lift us after that dive – but if we had got nine
points more on our reverse three-and-a-half, which normally we would do,
then we would have been on that podium.’
Full support: Fans in Plymouth cheer on Daley and Waterfield
Waterfield added: ‘It’s the worst place to finish at the Olympics. I would have rather finished last.’
Daley met defeat with exemplary good grace – unlike a Twitter troll who tweeted that he had let down his late father, Rob. I heard Tom deliver the eulogy at the funeral 15 months ago. There was no public sobbing, just a well-measured speech of affection that stopped short of mawkishness.
If you experience a terrible setback like that, losing the man who was your biggest supporter and jokingly referred to himself as taxi driver dad, sport finds its rightful place. It is not life and death.
The hope now is that Tom can spring one of the shocks of the Games by beating the world’s greatest diver, Qiu Bo, in the individual 10 metres platform on Saturday week.
The great American writer Norman Mailer once said of Muhammad Ali: ‘What is genius but balance on the edge of the impossible’ It is with that thought we wonder if young Tom can deliver the final, perfect tribute to his dad.