Tom Daley: You don't need to win to be a champion

10 months after winning his elusive Olympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020 Great Britain’s most decorated diver opened up about 'that moment' and what being a champion means to him.

By Chloe Merrell
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

When Tom Daley won an Olympic diving gold at Tokyo 2020 last summer one word was spoken more than any other:


After coming away with Olympic bronze medals at London 2012 and at Rio 2016, the British household name finally translated years of effort into gold in Tokyo alongside Matty Lee in the 10-meter synchronised event.

It was a moment of complete euphoria for the 27-year-old.

“It was like one of those things that you just put your life and your soul and everything into that sport for so long that when you finally do it… it just feels like nothing else can ever compare,” said Daley in an interview with Advocate.

The iconic tear the Briton shed as the medal went around his neck remains for many the moment from the Summer Games and while he relishes his victory, he admitted it hasn’t changed his mind on what it means to truly be a champion.

“Funny thing is that I don’t think a champion even needs to win,” continued Daley. “I think [being] a champion is an attitude. It’s an attitude towards doing the best that you can but not sacrificing your integrity and not sacrificing your morals and you as a person.”

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Tom Daley tears up after winning gold in the men's synchronised 10m platform final
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Given the journey the Briton has been on to landing his fourth Olympic medal it’s not surprising that Daley puts an emphasis on the world away from winning.

In his memoir ‘Coming Up for Air’ released after his exploits in Tokyo the Briton opened up on the experiences that shaped him on his journey to become a champion, including grief, anxiety and disordered eating.

The candid read reports everything Daley went through and how he has changed overtime.

In 2012, the year London hosted the Olympics, Daley shared the extreme methods he would exert on his body after being told he was overweight.

“When you’re in diving, everything’s on show. You have nowhere to hide, and it was the first time I ever thought that anybody had looked at my body in a way that it wasn’t just a performance tool but looked at is ‘Is he fat or not?” Daley continued to Advocate.

What followed was difficult relationship with food and body image.

READ: How Olympic champion Tom Daley How Olympic champion Tom Daley sealed a golden diving legacy at Tokyo 2020

Daley discovered knitting as a way to stay calm and keep his mind preoccupied
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Since then, Daley has been working on mindfulness strategies to help his mental health and personal development. Visualisation and yoga are some of the tools which he credits for taking him all the way in Tokyo and beyond.

“Hard work, self-compassion and being kind to myself – that has been the biggest change in the build-up to this year [2022],” Daley told the Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place podcast.

One of Daley’s self-care habits in particular stole headlines in Japan.

When waiting for competitors to finish up in the plunge pool the British diver could be seen knitting in the stands fabricating a special Team GB cardigan.

When that was done, he even found the time to knit a dedicated pouch for his gold medal so it would never pick up any scratches.

After the Games Daley told the BBC that it wasn’t just be knocking needles on the side-lines but also on the bus to and from competition as well as in the hotel – it was for him an obsession.

The diver picked up needlework during COVID-19 pandemic as a creative outlet to help him stay calm while external pressures began to mount.

Now, thanks to its time in the spotlight, Daley has transformed his hobby into a hustle.

In November he launched his own knitwear brand which is now on its second collection.

With Paris 2024 approaching on the horizon is not yet known whether Daley will compete in the Games in France’s capital but there have been several hints from the so-called “grandad” of British diving that he might stick around for a fifth Olympic appearance.

“I hear of rumours through the grapevine that they might put in the mixed synchro events or a team event into diving, which would mean three more events. That might be worth sticking around for because I could then be involved in three or four events,” Daley told Team GB back in August.

Could a French-theme knitwear collection be on the cards?


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