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Diver, Tom Daley facing Olympic Games challenge

Matthew Syed Times Online 13.06.2008 22:31
Olypmic Diver Tom Daley

Olypmic Diver Tom Daley

Tom Daley stands at the back of the platform visualising his next dive, his lips moving almost imperceptibly as he rehearses the tucks and somersaults in his mind's eye.

Slowly he moves to the platform's edge, his chest moving rhythmically as his breathing intensifies, his brown eyes glazed with concentration. For a moment he is stationary, like a statue in the heavens. Then he rocks back, his face working, his youthful muscles flexing.

In less than two seconds he will hit the water at 35mph, his hands thrust forward to break the surface (what aficionados call a “rip landing”), creating a fluid tunnel to receive his head and body. And those watching will applaud spontaneously. They always do.

It is unnecessary to trot out a list of superlatives to convey Daley's precocity, for the facts speak eloquently enough. He won gold in both the individual and synchronised 10-metre platform at the 2008 British Championships. He took gold at the European Championships in Eindhoven in March - at the age of 13 years and ten months - with two of his final three dives eliciting perfect 10s from the judges. And in August he will arrive at the Olympic Games in Beijing as Britain's youngest competitor in any sport, with an outside chance of a podium finish. How does he do it? Even Rob, his father, is confounded by the brilliance of Britain's latest sporting prodigy, his West Country accent fumbling for words that might solve the mystery.