Evolving Daley eyes elusive Olympic gold medal

BUDAPEST • Change is as inevitable as the tides and for British diver Tom Daley, the eight years separating his first and second individual world titles have been marked by a number of significant developments.

As a precocious 15-year-old at the 2009 world championships in Rome, he lacked experience and made the most of his limited repertoire of dives to emerge victorious and become Britain's first diving world champion.

On Saturday in Hungary, there was nothing conservative about his performance in the 10m platform - his final four dives had a difficulty rating of 3.5 or more - as he reclaimed the gold with a total of 590.95 points.

Olympic champion Chen Aisen of China was second with 585.25 points followed by compatriot Yang Jian with 565.15.

Daley, who also won a silver in the 3m mixed synchronised with Grace Reid, said: "All my dives today were harder and more complex compared to 2009. It's totally different."

So is life outside of the pool. One of the memorable moments from the 2009 championships was Daley's father Robert gatecrashing the press conference and asking for a hug from his embarrassed son. Robert died of cancer in 2011 and Daley, who sprinted to embrace his coach Jane Figueiredo after his final dive at Budapest's Danube Arena, said it was an emotional moment. He added: "I hope my dad will be proud of me today."

There was plenty to admire about his resolve after the disappointment of his home Olympics - only winning 10m platform bronze at London 2012 - and last year's Rio Games, where he was eliminated in the semi-finals. Becoming world champion again meant "I can put to bed Rio now and move on with my journey to Tokyo," he said of the 2020 Olympics.

Chen was gracious in defeat and said: "I did my best but he was just better today. He's going to be hard to beat and I need to work even harder now."

Countless hours of practice is one ingredient but so was a concerted effort to not take himself too seriously, said Daley. He and Reid sang and danced in the shower between their dives to relax and he continued singing in the 10m platform competition.

The 23-year-old said: "This year I wanted to make sure that I had that same 15-year-old's mentality on the end of the board, of enjoying it, loving my sport."

He has won golds at world, European and Commonwealth level and wants to complete the set in Tokyo. He said: "It's just that elusive Olympic gold medal that remains to be in my possession. I'm going to make sure I go back and work twice as hard, because the hardest thing is to stay at the top."

Jonathan Wong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 24, 2017, with the headline 'Evolving Daley eyes elusive Olympic gold medal'. Print Edition | Subscribe