It's scary but it's all down now to just six dives: Moment of truth for Tom Daley after his months of personal pain
21:18 GMT, 28 July 2012
Tom Daley has trained for his Olympic entrance in London on Monday since childhood. But he knows that no amount of preparation can save him from the reality that will confront him when he stands on the end of the 10-metre diving board.
‘You’ve done hundreds of thousands of dives in training but the Olympics will come down to just six dives on the day. That’s scary,’ said Daley.
At 18, he has grown from child protg to a young man carrying a burden of expectation known only to the most hardened of athletes within the British Olympic team.
Great expectations: The pressure is on for Tom Daley
‘I try to ignore it,’ said Daley. ‘I focus on what I can control … and I can’t control the expectation. I have medal chances in both my competitions but I’ve always said that to win a medal will be tough. Diving is such an on-the-day sport.’
Daley knows, too, that he must deal with the emotional reaction he will inevitably face when he enters the Olympic arena knowing that his late father, Rob, will not be in the crowd cheering him on.
Perhaps only when Daley looks around the diving pool and sees his mother, Debbie, younger brothers, William and Ben, and his grandparents and other members of his family, will he fully absorb the fact that the man who introduced him to diving, nurtured his ambition and accompanied him around the world draped in an over-sized Union flag is missing.
Taking it all in: Tom Daley and Peter Waterfield enjoy the Opening Ceremony
The 15 months since Rob Daley lost his battle with cancer will be distilled into this instant.
Daley can lay claim to a legitimate challenge for a medal, with partner Pete Waterfield, an Olympic silver medallist, in the synchronised 10-metre platform in the Aquatic Centre tomorrow afternoon. But can he keep control of his mind when confronted with the absence of his father
He vows not to let it overwhelm him — at least until his Olympics end with the 10-metre individual event in 13 days’ time. ‘It’s going to be an emotional time after I’ve finished, definitely,’ said Daley. ‘Me and Dad worked so hard to get here. But I feel he will be looking after me.’
Daley is in peak condition, diving better than ever. His coach, Andy Banks, said: ‘Tom can compartmentalise his life, he always has done. Of course, it’s still very difficult for him to deal with his Dad’s death. But Rob was a strong character and Tom knows he’s doing what Rob wanted.’
The time is now: Daley knows the pressure is on him to deliver
Banks and Daley will walk into the Aquatic Centre tomorrow with a sense of pride. ‘Somewhere, Rob will be waving a big flag,’ said Banks.
Banks believes Daley’s dive programme has matured to where he can compete, in terms of degree of difficulty, with the best in the world, China’s Qui Bo. ‘We’ve worked on making Tom consistent and confident with what he has developed for London,’ said Banks. ‘I’d have no hesitation in calling him one of the best in the world. It will all come down to a mighty punch-up at the Olympics.’
Waterfield, 31, a father of two and a silver medallist in Athens in 2004, grew up a bus ride away from the Olympic Park and has willingly undergone a course of painful injections to hold his body together for one final afternoon rich in promise.
Going for gold: Daley hopes to do enough to win his diving event
‘Tom has been making some high scores,’ he said. ‘Together, our timing has become better and better. We have a real chance of medalling.’
Performance director Alexei Evangulov feels there is a buoyant atmosphere within the team, in no small part created by the profile Daley has given British diving. But while team preparation has been professional, it is light years from the military-like training of the Chinese.
‘The team are so enthusiastic, I love working with them,’ said Evangulov. ‘They listen, they accept my experience. In terms of conditions, the financial support, all this stuff, British Swimming has provided us with everything we need. Our target is between one and three medals with four divers in top-eight positions.
Timing it to perfection: Waterfield says he and Daley are getting their timing right
‘In China, it’s like the old Soviet Union when I was a diver. I had no funding but we had free pools, free coaches, and we lived on full board. Divers had to fight for survival or be off the programme. It’s the same in China. And the Chinese have been dominating but this time we plan to pick up medals from them. We’d like to destroy their domination.’
Sarah Barrow and Tonia Crouch have elevated themselves to medal-winning candidates since capturing the recent European synchronised championship. ‘It has been a great 12 months,’ said Barrow, 23. ‘Tonia and I have known Tom since he started and we all look up to Tom for the way he has handled things.’
Four years ago, when Daley made his Olympic entrance as a 14-year-old schoolboy in Beijing, his father was easy to spot in the crowd, draped in his flag and cheering loudest of all.
In London, Daley will draw on those memories. And his gift is that, so far, he is emotionally in one piece. Tomorrow will be his greatest test. But once his Games end, hopefully with at least one medal, he can become a son who, in public and in private, can grieve for the loss of his father.