When Tom Daley packs up his trunks and his Union flag towel and reflects on his career, a gold medal from the 2014 Commonwealth Games is unlikely to be one of the highlights. This may well end up as a medal for the bottom of the sock drawer but right now it is an important moment for the 20-year-old, a signal of a career back together again after months of post-2012 drift.
Daley admitted on the eve of these Games to having been through difficult times since his bronze medal success in the Olympics. The road to Rio seemed an awful long one, and one that he occasionally felt he could not face, but at the start of this year he took a grip on his sporting career again, moved away from his Plymouth home, took a new coach and set his sights on Olympic gold.
Commonwealth gold in the 10m platform, won convincingly and comfortably last night in the Commie, as the Royal Commonwealth Pool is known, is his first significant success since London and a rallying point en route to Rio 2016.
It is confirmation of a new beginning. "It's a good stepping stone," said Daley, who will now compete in the European championships. "My dives are beginning to come together. It shows I'm right there up with the world's best divers.
"For me it is about staying focused on my diving. Diving is my number one priority. I used to do school full-time and nobody worried about me going to school and that it was a distraction and I shouldn't be doing it!"
It has always been about Rio for Daley as that is when he is supposed to be at his peak, aged 22. This year he moved to London, renting a flat near the Olympic pool where he now trains, and teamed up with the Zimbabwe-born American coach Jane Figueiredo.
She also moved to London, from the US, underlining her commitment to Project Daley, Operation Rio. She was an animated presence poolside, sending him up for his first dive with a pep talk. His was the most difficult programme of the 10 finalists and his start sent an emphatic message to the rest: this will be my gold. It was one planned as if for a different event, these are foundation stones being laid.
The opening arm-stand back triple somersault pike was on the mark – enough to earn a firm handshake from Figueiredo – but it was the second attempt, the dreaded "demon" dive, the one that troubled him in London 2012 and has done so ever since that was the most closely observed. He had struggled with it in qualification and last night it was still short of what it will need to be for the tougher challenges ahead. But it was enough.
Watched by his mother, Debbie – waving a large St George's Cross with her son's name emblazoned across it in gold letters – and partner Dustin Lance Black, the Hollywood scriptwriter, he stretched away from the field, helped by the 2008 Beijing gold medallist Matt Mitcham having an off night. His third Commonwealth gold was never in doubt. The winning margin, from Malaysia's Ooi Tze Liang, was a hefty 82.85.
Matthew Dixon, a 14-year-old from Plymouth, finished ninth on his debut. He has already been called the "new Tom Daley" – there really is no other possible description even if he is behind where Daley was at that age. But it was definitely the old Tom's night.
Wikipedia describes Daley as "an English diver and television personality". It's a description that might have been written by Alexei Evangulov, Britain's performance director whose relationship with Daley has travelled a bumpy road, or David Sparkes, the chief executive of British Swimming who was fortunate to retain his position after their disaster in the pool at London.
Daley made one of the most documented journeys of any Briton to London 2012. Evangulov criticised Daley for his work ethic in the months before the Olympics. Daley was miffed by that, although relations have been repaired – not least by the simple fact of Daley winning a medal in London.
Daley confessed after the Olympics that the pressure had come close to overwhelming him and he clearly needed time, and a bit of life away from the diving pool, to decide where to go next.
He has done three TV series for ITV since London, two of Splash and the dire Tom Daley Goes Global, and that prompted Sparkes to suggest that he had his priorities muddled. Team Daley was not amused – Tom saved your job with his London medal, was his mother's furious response.
Sparkes might have had a point. Last year was not a good one in the pool for Daley. His World Championships was ruined by a third torn triceps of the year. Then came the life change, dropping Andy Banks, his long-time coach, and leaving Plymouth. It was a big step. This was another in the right direction.Reuse content