What drives Tom Daley: 'I want to make my son proud'

Fatherhood, time out, and a new dive partner have given the British diver a renewed sense of purpose ahead of Tokyo 2020.

By Ken Browne

Tom Daley is a different man.

Life, love, meditation, and fatherhood have helped him mature into one of the top divers on the planet.

But his greatest motivation is simple: "to make my son proud."

His husband Lance Black and son Robbie Ray Black-Daley, who just turned one, are key to his recent success.

Daley lost his own father when he was just 17 in 2011 to brain cancer and in becoming a father he completed one of his life's great dreams.

12 podium finishes in five 2019 FINA World Series events this season prove that the British dive star is hungry for more success

Now he's got his sights set on the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, Korea, and his other great dream: an Olympic gold medal.

Despite having competed at Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016, the Plymouth native is still only 25-years-old.

The British diver watched Olympic Channel's 'Before they were Superstars' episode about himself as a 14-year-old live on his Youtube Channel on Olympic Day, this was his reaction:

Tom Daley's son

Apart from parenting, social media, and a busy media schedule - where he admits things like how he can barely swim - Tom has been doing some diving too.

This season he has been sharper and more spectacular than ever, with 12 podium finishes and three gold medals in the FINA Diving Series.

Tom Daley is in the shape and form of his life.

He puts it down to marriage, meditation, and new motivation:

"I took four months off with my family because I now have a son," Daley told Swim England in March.

“It changed my perspective on a lot of things, including training and diving. For me being able to train and dive is all the more important now because I have someone that I want to make proud.”

Support at home

Having his son at home has also changed things when dad gets home from a day's training:

“Little things like, before Robbie was around I would come home and be thinking about diving and all the things that I could have done better," he told heart.co.uk.

“When I get home now, there’s this little face with his hands reaching towards me, and I’m instantly taken away from the diving pool.”

Daley has also reached a deal on sleep - an essential for any elite athlete - with husband Lance:

"I do night duty six days a week and Tom does one day for now," Lance told the Guardian, "that’s the deal until after the Tokyo Olympics. If he misses sleep, it’s dangerous; if I do, I’m just cloudy-headed."

Why does Tom Daley never post his baby's face?

“There’s many reasons really”, the 3-time world champion explained to heart.co.uk, “there’s lots of people in our family, because we’re spread across the world, there’s lots of people that haven’t met him yet, and we want to be able for him to meet those friends and family members in person.”

“That might change in the future," he continued, "but for right now, we wanted to enjoy the first year with him."

“We share glimpses of parenthood, but keep Robbie for us and our family and friends.”

Stellar season

Time out from diving with Robbie and Lance helped Daley hit the refresh button on his career.

After four months away, the difference was immediately visible on his comeback.

Success at the British nationals set the platform for a string of impressive international victories:

He took silver in the men's 10m platform and bronze in the mixed 3m synchro during the first leg of the FINA World Series in Japan.

But that was only the beginning.

In Montreal in April - the 3rd of 5 World Series events - Daley won 10m platform gold ahead of Chinese divers Yang Jian and Yang Hao, the first time Yang Jian had been off the top of the podium all season.

In the final event of in London, Daley was outstanding again, winning gold in the men's 10m synchro with new dive partner Matty Lee:

He made the podium again in the men's 10m platform, this time in third behind China's Yang Hao and Lian Junjie:

And finished on a high in London by topping the podium again in the mixed 3m springboard event alongside Grace Reid:

Tom Daley and Matty Lee

Relationships are pivotal in life and diving, and the one Daley and new partner Matty Lee have struck up has been an instant success.

The Yorkshireman Lee moved to London in autumn 2018 to work with Daley on a full-time basis, and they worked hard together all winter.

Their first competition together was the British nationals in February 2019 and it could hardly have gone any better.

They nailed their first two dives with top marks on execution and synchronicity, scoring 421.41 points. An Olympic-sized total.

It looked like they'd been diving together all their lives.

“We’re really happy with that – 421 [points] for our first competition together is pretty solid," Daley said afterwards, "our first two required dives were very good and the kind of scores we need to be challenging the Chinese and the Russians.”

The 21-year-old Lee said:

“The National Cup is probably one of the most nerve-wracking comps we do all year, because it’s in Britain, your family are watching," said Lee, saying he was nervous about diving next to Tom Daley:

"And diving next to Tom is obviously nerve-wracking as he’s a world champion and Olympic bronze medallist. And, obviously, I'm not any of them things."

"Yet," said Daley.

This Great Britain pairing is so close they've even eaten Japanese candy together on Tom's YouTube channel:

A threat to China's dive dynasty

There's no doubt about who diving's most dominant nation is.

China came one medal from a golden clean sweep at Rio 2016, winning 7 out of 8 gold medals available.

At the 2017 FINA World Championships 8 of 13 titles on offer went to the Middle Kingdom.

With Olympic champions like Shi Tingmao, Ren Qian, Cao Yuan, and Chen Aisen set to star at the 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju, and at Tokyo 2020, China look a sure bet to add to the reserves.

Tom Daley is one man that has proved he can challenge the Chinese status quo.

The Team GB three-time world champion will defend his 10m platform title from Budapest 2017 and with a season behind him beating the best, Daley knows he has what it takes.

Gwangju will be another strong indication on where he stands as clock ticks down to Tokyo.

With Daley's depth of Olympic experience and the motivation his son Robbie has stirred in him, one of Great Britain's most recognisable athletes stands as a strong contender to top the podium in Tokyo and bring home the gold medal that he's spent a lifetime working towards.