Picture by 2017 Getty Images

In-form Tom Daley relishes senior team role ahead of European Championships

The British diver reveals how his role has changed from prodigy to mentor, how he and Matty Lee stay entertained in the bubble, and the creative ways he maintains contact with his son.
By Andrew Binner

The spotlight is never far from Tom Daley

At Beijing 2008, all eyes were on the 14-year-old diving sensation, who was competing as one of his nation’s youngest ever Olympians.

Four years later, he was the poster boy for the London 2012 Olympics, shouldering the expectations of a nation on home soil. Under immense pressure, and still in mourning for the loss of his father a year before, he delivered a bronze medal to his adoring fans. After coming out as gay in 2013, Daley’s profile exploded and he was a full-blown global celebrity at the Rio 2016 Olympics, where he delivered another bronze medal.

But when the Brit approaches the diving board at his fourth Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer, he will be contending with a wave of new feelings as a father, as well as a senior statesman in Team GB.

I do sometimes feel like the grandad of the team,” the 26-year-old told Olympics.com at the Diving World Cup in Tokyo, where he won the 10m synchro title alongside Matty Lee. “My body's more sore than most people’s on most days.

“I also feel like I'm the youngest and probably the silliest on the team, as well as being one of the more mature divers. It comes with a lot of experience.

“It’s a really good environment where people can ask questions and if they don't know something, they don't feel worried about just reaching out to me.”

But at the same time, there's lots of divers in our team that people look up to. There’s Jack Laugher, who is extremely decorated in his own respective events."

"It's just a game"

Becoming a father gave Daley a fresh perspective on life, in that there was now much more to it than sport. But far from being a distraction from diving, little Robbie’s presence reinvigorated his father’s career.

Just before he was born, Daley took a break from diving in order to recover from several injuries. After a punishing 15-year career as an elite diver, some thought this to be the first step towards retirement. 

But after seeing his son, the four-time European champion’s passion for the sport was reignited. His new motivation was to make his son proud.

Bronze at the 2019 world championships, followed by victory in the world series showed that he was firing once again. And best of all, he was competing with a smile on his face. The burden of expectation had seemingly given way to enjoyment.

“The 2016 Olympics was where I felt like I was at my best physical and mental condition, so that brought pressures and expectations,” Daley told TheTimes. But now, my perspective has completely shifted. Being a parent, a year in a global pandemic, you realise the things that matter most. You realise things can change at any moment; spanners can be thrown into works. And I’ve almost enjoyed diving more, because I just feel grateful. I realise that actually, it’s just a game.”

Daley had hoped, alongside many other Olympian parents, that his child would be there in person to watch him perform under the bright lights of the Tokyo Aquatics Centre at the Olympic Games. But coronavirus safety precautions have since ruled that out, which will make being away tougher.

“I think now is a time in my diving career when I come away, it’s really difficult with my son at home and my husband at home,” he continued to Olympics.com. “I want to do the job and get home. For me as an older athlete, that experience of having all of the diving competitions I've had before allows me to go and solely focus on what I need to do.”

I've got a photo actually back at the hotel room, in a little thing that my mum got me for Christmas. It's got two photos in it."

A creative way to stay in contact with Robbie

Anyone that follows Daley on social media will know that he loves being creative: from knitting clothes, to baking cakes and making art with Robbie.

True to form, the diver has come up with a special way of ensuring that his boy is always with him, even when he is on the road.

“But I also left him a treasure hunt when I was away. So when I'm on FaceTime with him, I'll tell him where a little packet of sweets is or something like that. And then he goes and finds it. So in that way we kind of feel like we're still connected. But during the Olympics, I might bring away one of his little toy monkeys or something, and then take photos of it and send it back to him so he can see one one of his toys across the world.”

Exciting times ahead with Matty Lee

As with every Olympics, Tom Daley will be expected to win medals at Tokyo 2020.

As the reigning World Series champion, and having recently won the Diving World Cup alongside Matty Lee at the Olympic test event in Tokyo, things look promising.

The British pair only started diving together in late 2018, but after winning bronze at the 2019 World Championships and booking their place at the Tokyo Olympics, their bond has gone from strength to strength.

“It’s been really fun to be with Matty,” Daley said. “He's moved down from Leeds to London to train with me and go on that journey together.

“I never worry about how he's going to do in the competition. I know he's always going to step up, and that is something that when we first started doing synchro, I wouldn't have felt like that because we didn't know each other.”

Tom Daley and Matty Lee win gold at the 2021 Diving World Cup in Tokyo, Japan.

While Daley’s preference would be to travel with his family to events, he did also admit that the spare time he had to fill as a result of being confined to a COVID-safe bubble was something of a novelty.

“Having a kid makes you appreciate even being able to say that you're bored because, when I'm at home there's no time to be bored. Coming away, I do spend hours just sitting there knitting or like crocheting. And I could pass hours doing that. has brought his colouring book and we've been watching Peaky Blinders together.”

Next up for the pair are the European Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where more knitting, Netflix and (hopefully) medals will be expected.