For those who have not kept up with Tom Daley’s recent trials and tribulations the news that he finished sixth in yesterday’s World Championships in Barcelona may seem to be a bit of a let-down for a young man who has been world champion, European champion, Commonwealth champion and, last year, an Olympic bronze medallist.
If you dig a little deeper, however, you will realise how this is a minor triumph, as I discovered over the weekend when I watched the still 19-year-old in action against the most magnificent backdrop of a Barcelona skyline.
Whilst nearly all the other London 2012 medallists gorged themselves on deserved fun and praise post Games Daley headed straight to the world junior championships, which he duly won. Then came the post-Olympics depression, a not unusual response which leaves an athlete lacking motivation.
At the turn of the year Daley fronted the ITV Saturday night prime time show, ‘Splash,’ where celebrities were taught how to dive and then judged by a panel of judges in front of a live audience. It was met with a mixed reaction and criticism from British swimming’s CEO, David Sparkes, that his star diver had taken his eye off the ball.
Whatever you felt of the show, and I thought it needed better celebs performing at a higher level like they do on Strictly and Dancing on Ice a Saturday night prime time slot given up for diving could only be for the good of the sport.
In Barcelona I discovered that Splash has been subsequently sold to 33 countries, and
been re-commissioned for next January. Meanwhile more people took up diving after ‘Splash’ than even after Daley’s triumph in London last summer.
Meanwhile Master Daley won the British title and a world series competition in Edinburgh before injuring his right triceps so badly in April that he only started diving again last week, hardly the best preparation for a world championships. On top of this he also endured a recent and long-standing hacking cough and swollen glands in his abdomen that made even walking difficult.
Then, on Thursday, he injured his triceps again and spent every available moment between dives on Saturday during the preliminary qualifying round and the semi-final being attended to by the team physio and masseuse. When I spoke to him late on Saturday he had an ice back the size of a small iceberg strapped to his right arm but vowed he would compete in yesterday’s final “even if my arm falls off.”
This is why his 6th place in the world final should be applauded. To be able to be that high in the world using an arm that could not lock properly on impact into the water, be painful when used to handstand and could not straighten afterwards, was a brave and committed effort.
Tom Daley may be many things. With 2.4 million twitter followers he is the third most followed UK sportsman on twitter after Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand. He has also been recently voted the sexiest man in Britain by Attitude Magazine, beating David Beckham and Superman actor Henry Cavill to the top spot. He may receive more attention as an Olympic bronze medallist than almost all of the gold medallists in this country.
But as I learnt in the Catalan capital over the weekend, he is also committed, determined, bloody-minded and good, very good. Moreover he has led the way for others to follow. The fact that Tonia Couch and Sarah Barrow are not putting in consistently world-class displays, and that there is a small battalion of others, such as Jack Laugher, Chris Mears, Hannah Starling and Dan Goodfellow coming up fast on the rails, is no coincidence.
Tom Daley may have achieved a lot. You could argue he has achieved almost everything in his sport. But the man plans big things for the future, and if he shows the kind of spirit on evidence in Barcelona, more and even greater glories await him.