Blake Aldridge does not look or sound like an anti-hero. The very name suggests more matinée idol than bad guy, but it was one that emerged from Beijing cast in the role of the villain who stabbed the juvenile lead in the back. Not so much Big Brother as Wicked Uncle.
Or so it was portrayed after he and Tom Daley publicly fell out of synch in the diving competition, finishing eighth when it was hoped they would get a medal, with the 26-year-old Aldridge apparently heaping the blame on his young partner and plaintively phoning his mum in the crowd during the 10-metre final.
He was vilified, critics attacking him for "spewing out a stream of bile" and "an act of betrayal" against Tiny Tom. Now that the Water Cube waves have abated, Aldridge insists this simply wasn't true, that he was misquoted and misinterpreted and that their partnership remains afloat.
With Daley's father Rob said to be "enraged" and upbraiding Aldridge as "unprofessional" it was widely assumed the pairing would be sunk as a result of the spat. But the Ant and Dec of diving are still together despitetheir platform double act in Beijing turning out to be less than harmonious. "I read in the press that he was supposed to be looking for a new partner, but that's a conversation that Tom and I have never had," says the Southampton-based Aldridge. "It's really frustrating. I've spoken with Tom and his dad, and the prospect of a change in our partnership has never been mentioned. We are still a team."
So the relationship has come good again? "It was never bad. People wrote all sorts of things in the papers and on websites, some really nasty things, and it really started to get to me. While I was out there I got quite a few tasty emails. I read that I'd been getting death threats but that wasn't true, though I was made out to be an arsehole and a mummy's boy.
"What I read later was nothing like what I actually said. My words were totally mixed around. I've had loads of crap thrown at me since I've been back and some sponsors have been disappointed, because they've been associated with all the bad publicity.
"The point is, neither Tom nor myself dived anywhere near as well as we can. People said I was blaming him for our performance, but the fact is I admitted I didn't dive well either, though I did score more than Tom and that never normally happens.
"I never said it was his fault we didn't perform, but I know what this phenomenal kid is capable of and it just didn't happen at these Olympics. But at the end of the day you can't odds it. What we've achieved in a year of being together is remarkable."
Explaining why he had the phone call with his mother, Debbie, during the event, he says: "I was in an Olympic Games, somewhere I had never been before, and we were having a bad competition. The wheels had fallen off by the last round. I couldn't really talk to Tom because everyone was so uptight. He was on edge, I was on edge and there was no connection between us. Our coaches were stuck in the coaches' corral and I was feeling really low, so I signalled to my mum in the audience to give me a ring.
"It had absolutely no bearing on the competition, it was because I was feeling lost and I simply needed to talk to someone. That's how I deal with things when the chips are down."
As Aldridge told us before Beijing, his and Daley's "arranged marriage" was never all hunky-dory, largely because of the difference in their ages and interests, but in the run-up to the Olympics they gelled brilliantly. "I know some think I resent it because I've been overshadowed by a 14-year-old schoolboy but that's not so, because I know it is always going to be that way, though I do have a pretty good record myself. Tom's just got silver in the junior worlds but I am still the only Briton to have won gold in those championships."
They will take the plunge together again for Britain against Germany in Berlin in November and at the national championships in Sheffield in February, a selection event for the World Cup in Rome.
B&Q, for whom Aldridge works part-time, have yet to decide whether to renew their backing of Olympic prospects for 2012 but Aldridge says: "Fortunately, my main sponsors, Apogee Corporation, have been very supportive and it is very important that support continues after the Olympics, because we have to build up for 2012 and need that [support] to help us dive well in all competitions to keep our Lottery funding. The ultimate goal for both of us is to get a medal in the synchro, but I also want to be on the board diving against Tom individually."
By then Daley will be 18, and one hopes no longer overexposed as sport's Little Briton. Aldridge adds: "We are both upbeat despite what happened. That's all behind us now and we've got the future to look forward to."Reuse content