Diving: Medal winner, aged 10, gives British diving a lift

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The Independent Online

At 4ft 6in and weighing a mere 4st 10lb, he would struggle to meet the minimum height and weight requirements in an amusement park.

Yet Thomas Daley, a primary school pupil from Plymouth, Devon, was being hailed yesterday as one of the most exciting prospects in the world of competitive diving after winning two medals at an international meeting.

The 10-year-old made the biggest splash of any juvenile British athlete in recent memory by outdoing a field of top-class juniors, most of them five years older, at an event in Aachen, Germany.

Britain's diving cognoscenti had already tipped him as a possible contender for a medal at the 2012 Olympic Games, but the weekend's events suggest major success may come sooner. There is an outside chance he might be ready to represent his country at the next Games, in Beijing in 2008, aged 14. Only his tender years rule out any possibility of appearing at next year's Commonwealth Games in Australia.

"It felt amazing," Thomas said yesterday of his weekend achievements. "I just didn't know what to say when my scores came up. I was so nervous beforehand. I was shaking, I had butterflies in my tummy. But I just remembered what my coach told me, to turn my nerves into energy."

In Aachen, he took the bronze medal in the three-metre springboard event, which was won by a 15-year-old Ukrainian, who is the European junior champion.

He then astounded his coaches on Sunday evening by landing the silver medal in the 7.5m platform event. Both achievements were all the more remarkable because the meeting was Thomas's first international event, and the first competition he had entered overseas.

"He's certainly been raising a few eyebrows," Kim White, British Diving's junior Olympic programme manager, said. "All the top countries are filming him train and he's found a lot of new supporters. I'm not sure he's fully aware yet what he's actually achieved."

Thomas, who turns 11 next month, took up diving three years ago. He became the youngest British under-18 platform champion last year and was rewarded for his astonishing progress earlier this month by being picked out to receive a government grant to fund his Olympic plans.

That particular scheme will fund hundreds of British sporting hopefuls, aged 10-16, in their long-term planning towards the 2012 Games. Thomas was among the first five children, across all sports, to be awarded a grant.

"We're told that he has the ability to go all the way to the top," his father, Rob, a 34-year-old engineer, said yesterday. "The first time I saw him go up on the high board I had to close my eyes. But he's pretty fearless, and he's very focused for a 10-year-old. It's a great honour for all of us that he's even competing at the level he is."

With his sights set on becoming an Olympic champion, Thomas thinks nothing of a training regime that requires two hours practice every day, as well as trampolining, gymnastics and conditioning exercises.

"I love diving," he said, "and my friends think it's good too."

His heroes are Leon Taylor, who won Britain a silver medal in the synchronised diving event at last year's Athens Olympics, and a Canadian, Alexandre Despatie. The latter is an apt role model.

He won a Commonwealth gold medal in 1998 aged 13, a world championship silver in 2001, aged 16, and a silver at last year's Olympics, his second Games, aged 19.

It bodes well for Thomas that positive comparisons are already being made.