Tom Daley (GBR) - Prince of the Platform
At the age of 15, Thomas “Tom” Daley (GBR) is the reigning World and European champion in the 10m platform and his potential appears to be limitless. Senior national champion by the age of 13, the “buzz” behind Daley’s success has thus far been related to his youth – a warranted storyline considering his victory in Rome made him the second-youngest world diving champion ever, and that he was the second-youngest British Olympian ever when he competed in Beijing at age 14 (and the youngest on the 2008 British team), and that he is the youngest ever continental champion (etc., etc.). But Daley is no longer a boy. He is growing rapidly and under close scrutiny of nutritionists, psychologists, coaches and his parents to ensure his training is adjusted to suit his body development in a way that can provide maximum competitive benefits. His success-in-youth is no longer the focus; his sheer talent, mental fortitude, and whether he will continue to win as an adult is now the main subject.
Getting used to it
Interestingly, the question of Daley’s psychological maturity never seemed to be an issue. He is profoundly adaptive, sensible, and consistently maintains a positive outlook. When questioned about most anything that might provide a barrier to his pursuit of success, he usually acknowledges the issue before explaining that he just “gets used to it”. When he was 13 and said he felt “like a dwarf” alongside the other competitors (at the European Championships for example, he was, on average, nine years younger, 18 cm shorter, and 18 kg lighter than the other platform finalists), he said he noticed but just “got used to them towering over me”.
When asked if he minds executing complicated aerial dives in front of hundreds or thousands of eyes, he says: “Sometimes I do get scared in front of large crowds, although you do get used to it – especially in Beijing at the Olympics when there were 18,000+ people. I was nervous, but after you do your first dive you just take the crowd with you.” And about the dives themselves, and whether he gets afraid sometimes: “I do get scared jumping off these boards; but you definitely get used to it.” Generally he loves doing all his dives, and the sport itself, which makes him even more of a competitive threat. He says: “I enjoy the hard ones (his favourite dive trick is the Armstand Backward Triple Somersault), which I have to do more of to get better, but I also enjoy the easy ones.”
“Sometimes I do get scared in front of large crowds, although you do get used to it – especially in Beijing at the Olympics when there were 18,000+ people. I was nervous, but after you do your first dive you just take the crowd with you.”
About being a British schoolboy and also a world-class athlete, and how these two aspects of his life conflict, he says, not surprisingly: “Yes, being constantly associated with diving can get kind of annoying; but you kind of get used to it.” Regarding a well-publicised phase in his life where he was being bullied at school, he does not hide his discomfort on the topic, saying: “It was really annoying because I wanted to have a normal school life (adding that Plymouth College, the school to which he has since moved, provides that for him). I didn’t really let it get to me, but it was annoying.” As usual, he plays the issue down, without dismissing it: “I definitely think it got blown out of proportion by the media, which meant it would have been hard to go back to [his old] school because it would have been worse. Lots of people go through it, so if you’re being bullied you are not alone.”
He has also gotten used to missing out on spending time with friends and family for the sake of his diving, rationalising that “it just means that I appreciate it more when I do get to be with them”. At the same time, he has become accustomed to the persistent presence of his father/manager Mr. Rob Daley. “My dad goes to every competition I go to. He films everything. He’s got all the newspaper cuttings. He’s got a big file of all my newspaper cuttings.” Indeed, Daley likely owes his career to his father, explaining that he got involved with diving at the age of 8 “when [his] father took him to a public swim and he saw people diving and tried it out then got talent-spotted from there.”
But Daley is no longer a boy. He is growing rapidly and under close scrutiny of nutritionists, psychologists, coaches and his parents to ensure his training is adjusted to suit his body development in a way that can provide maximum competitive benefits.
It is worth mentioning that Mr. Daley has made a name for himself by repeatedly finding his way into restricted zones backstage at diving competitions after his son becomes the winner – most recently at the 2009 13th FINA World Championships in Rome, where he managed to get into the press conference following Daley’s 10m victory. When called on to identify himself and pose his question, as per the press conference procedure, Mr. Daley said: “I represent Tom Daley. I’m his father. Tom, come give me a cuddle, please, please, please – give me a cuddle.” Later, Daley called these types of displays embarrassing, but nevertheless a “regular occurrence” (meaning, yes, he has gotten used to them). “He does it all the time…” he added, “I guess that’s what parents do. If I win more and more, I think he won’t do it as much.”
Moreover, despite the ups and downs of being a minor celebrity, young Daley says he enjoys the fame and that he’s been “loving every minute of it; the TV/media support has been wonderful”. This is glowing praise considering his every move and decision seems to trickle into the national news – both the good and the bad. Daley was thrust into the public eye when he won the 2007 BBC Sports Personality of the Year Young Personality Award, but also when he had a “falling-out” with former diving partner Blake Aldridge (12 years older than Daley) during the Beijing Games. Subsequently, when Aldridge missed the British Championships after sustaining an injury during a nightclub incident, Daley’s father openly expressed that his son would be better off with a new partner. Now, Daley dives with Max Brick, who is two years his senior and widely considered a better match.
Evidently, Daley faces all these factors and pressures that have been placed on his shoulders by taking them in stride. Acceptance allows adjustment. With such a nonchalant attitude, it’s no wonder he is one of the few divers active today that can better the precision of the Chinese. Through it all, he says he “keeps training hard; stays focused; stays committed, and hopes to get a medal in 2012”.
The one to beat
Physically stronger, settled into a new and more comfortable school with a generous scholarship, and buoyed by a strong support system based around his father and coach Andy Banks, this media darling will likely enter the London 2012 Olympics in peak form. In fact Daley plans on diving at five Olympic Games – finishing in 2024 at age 30. His humble attitude directly impacts his results, but also makes him a sporting ambassador and role model, especially for youth. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was delighted at Tom’s World title, calling Daley “an inspiration to all involved in British sport and to young people right across the country.” The day he became world champion, a stunned Tom Daley said he had “woken up thinking [he] would just enjoy the competition… It was unthinkable what happened; I just fell to the floor… All the hard work from everyone has paid off.”
A lot of hard work is almost an understatement. Daley trains six days a week and does as much training out of the pool as he does off the boards. Everyone involved in his competitive life is keenly aware of his developmental condition; that he is in an intense phase of growth and that his practices must be specially catered. Wristbands ease potential stress on his lengthening arms; he limits his time in training off the high boards, where the impact and exertion is necessarily higher. He already executes dives of the highest degree of difficulty but eases into them during training, minding his changing physique. Already identified as a medal prospect for the London 2012 Olympics, Daley is being tracked by the BBC Television series Olympic Dreams and is on the list of British Diving’s funded athletes.
Although in the end, Tom Daley is a quintessential teenager. He likes McFlurries from McDonald’s. He looks up to Lance Armstrong “because of all the stuff he’s been through”, and Alexandre Despatie (CAN) “because even though I only found out about him when I was already in diving, he won the Commonwealth Games when he was only 13 and inspired me to be like him”. Daley lives at home in Plymouth with his father, mother Debbie and two younger brothers William and Ben, with whom he shares a room. He says he gets along with his brothers; that they play video games together, but have lots of fights as well. Content and doing what he loves, the international diving elite might as well get used to seeing Thomas Daley around the pool.
Thomas Daley (GBR)