Diving Olympic champion Matty Lee Q&A: Stepping out from Tom Daley's shadow

The British diving star tells Olympics.com why he had post-Tokyo 2020 Olympics depression, how Tom Daley's advice helped him through it, and how he plans to inspire the nation at Paris 2024.

By Andrew Binner
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

The months after winning diving Olympic gold alongside Tom Daley at Tokyo 2020 were an emotional rollercoaster for Matty Lee.

After achieving the seemingly impossible by beating China to the men's 10m synchronised title, the young Brit enjoyed the opportunities that deservedly came his way.

He took a break from the sport to take part in a reality TV show, among other things.

But when Lee returned to 'the day job', it suddenly felt foreign to the Leeds native and he lost his love for the sport.

Fast forward six months and he stood atop the individual 10m platform and 10m synchronised podiums at the 2022 British Championships with a smile on his face once more.

In a candid interview with Olympics.com, Lee reveals how he rediscovered his fire, whether he and Daley will dive together again, and how he plans to inspire Great Britain again at the Paris 2024 Olympics.

READ: Exclusive! Matty Lee reveals special gift from Tom Daley

Olympics.com: It's almost a year since you won gold for GB in Tokyo. How much has your life changed since that day?

Matty Lee: It's changed an awful lot. I don't think I've changed personally, but in sporting terms I definitely feel a lot more confident, almost like I'm just fulfilled now. I don't put too much pressure on myself. I just try and actually enjoy all the little bits because the training towards the Olympics was very intense. I almost forgot what life was but it obviously paid off.

I used to get quite frustrated training and competing. I used to get quite angry if things didn't go very well and I haven't experienced that since the Olympics. I'm just settled. I'm like all the weight is off my shoulders. Now I can actually just have fun.

I get to do cool things, people sometimes recognise me in the streets, which is always nice. Sometimes I’ll forget what I’ve actually achieved and then someone will come over and just be like, 'Ah, well done Matty, you were amazing!' And it's like, “Oh, thank you.” I’ve witnessed with Tom that it's sometimes too much, but I feel like I've got a perfect balance.

O: Did you feel shielded from the media spotlight in Tokyo because you were diving with a national treasure in Tom?

ML: Yeah, I definitely did feel that. I was a fan of Tom when I was a kid and he deserves everything that he got. So, I did definitely feel a bit in his shadow, but Tom would go out of his way to make me feel that we were there together. I remember getting photographed straight after the podium in Tokyo and all the cameramen were shouting, 'Tom, get over here!' And I was like, “There is someone else here as well!” But I completely understand it.

O: You’ve been quite open with your struggles returning to competition after Tokyo 2020. How tough was it to find motivation after winning Olympic gold at such a young age?

ML: I definitely struggled a lot because when it was time to go back to training. Life felt incredible for a month or two. Everything was really exciting and new to me and then all of a sudden it was just back to the day job. I love diving, but at the time I was struggling because I came back a lot later than everyone else and Tom was already on his break. Everyone else had already been training for a while, so they were already at a good level and diving. If you take time off diving, you will lose your ability so quickly. I had no one to relate to either. At the time, my coach Jane Figueiredo, who coached me and Tom to the Olympics, was taking a break so I would turn up to training and it was all very different for me. That was really, really, really hard. People probably would think, “Why are you miserable? Why do you not want to come training? Why are you struggling, you've won an Olympic gold?” It's like they don't understand. So I found it really, really tough and it took me a long, long time to find the love for the sport.

O: How did you get through that period of your life?

ML: I chose to try and speak to as many Team GB athletes as I could that have previously gone to multiple Games. I went for dinner with Chris Mears who got Olympic gold with Jack Laugher in Rio. Chris struggled as well after Rio and he gave me some great advice. It's almost like it's not necessarily what they said, but it's just knowing that there are other people out there that have gone through it and are out of that hole. And I would meet up with Tom as much as I could. He's super busy doing all his knitting stuff, but we were best friends and now all of a sudden I don't see him every day and it was quite sad. But he would be like, “No, come on, keep going, just push through it, you'll get there.” I think that helps because sometimes a hug is not all that's needed. You need a lot more than just a hug. You need a lot of advice.

O: Despite being 24, you’re now a mentor in the British diving team. How does that role suit you?

ML: It feels weird at training because I'm aware that people probably do look up to me and that I'm one of the older ones, but I'm not that old, I'm 24 and there are a few older athletes than me here. Weirdly, I feel very mature even though sometimes I am immature, and that's not a bad thing. It's good to be silly sometimes. At training it's business. You're there to do a job, you've always got to tick all the boxes with nutrition, recovery and icing and whatever you need to do to get yourself in the best possible shape. I find myself giving my advice to people so the dynamic has definitely changed.

Matty Lee (L) and Noah Williams (R) won the men’s 10m Synchro title at the 2022 British Diving Championships in Sheffield.
Picture by 2022 Getty Images

O: Tell us about your new diving partnership with Noah Williams, and what your goals are as a pair…

ML: I've been training with him for, well, since I moved to London at the end of 2018. And I've seen him improve so much at a very rapid rate, which is brilliant to see and, kind of, kudos to him. So like, I can't just lay back, you know. I've got a lot of good athletes, divers, in Great Britain, that, you know, could easily kick my butt.

I'm optimistic about our partnership because we, I mean, we won at nationals. So we're the British champs. And we put down a really good score. And there's definitely room to improve as well and that score can definitely... You know, I genuinely believe that another medal is definitely up for grabs in Paris at the Olympics.

O: You’ve also returned to the individual 10m platform for the first time in two years with victory at the British Championships. What prompted that decision and how has that process been?

ML: I've enjoyed it a lot because Tom taught me so much. Before, I just focused on synchro for two years running up to the Olympics, which definitely was the right thing to do. And like I said, it definitely paid off, so no regrets there. But it's nice to stand alone on the 10 metre as well. I do miss Tom an awful lot in training. But he inspired more than just one generation of people and I think now it's time for myself to do the same.

Tom medalled in both synchro and individual at the Olympics, so I think I can achieve that as well. And I'm going to make sure I put myself in the best possible situation and fitness so I can achieve that. I think it's up from here. I've got a lot to work on and I need to build that experience up again. But I would love to be able to say I'm an Olympic medallist in both synchro and individual.

O: You said you want to go to Paris 2024. Is it a possibility we'll see your golden partnership with Tom Daley reunited in Paris?

ML: I don't know exactly what Tom is doing. He hasn't announced anything because I don't think he knows what he is doing. He's definitely taking a break from diving. He's got a son and training is a full-time job. He wants to spend, and has been spending, a lot more time with him, which is so lovely to see. And he's also got a lot going on but he hasn't written it off completely. I have asked him the question if he’s coming back because I think me and Tom are the gold winning standard. The Chinese are so incredibly good at diving and it's very unheard of to beat them. I think we were the only people to beat them at last year's Olympics so it is tough. Tom's got the ability to return maybe a year-and-a-half before the Olympics, and he will be ready. He could easily get in shape because he is so gifted in the sport. I wouldn't write it off and it would be really special.

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