Diving: Boy wonder is growing up but won't sink without trace
Sunday 18 April 2010
When Tom Daley hits the water in Sheffield's Ponds Forge pool as the star attraction in the Fina World Series diving final next weekend, he will no longer be the precocious boy wonder of British sport but a young man enveloped by all the trappings of superstardom.
Since we gave the then 13-year-old Plymouth schoolboy his first national newspaper exposure as one of our Going for Gold prospects back in 2007, he has not only acquired a World Championship gold medal but an agent, a protective posse of PRs and an assortment of advisers who, with his ever-present dad Rob, comprise Team Tom. He is now a product as well as a performer, and all questions other than those in pre-arranged interviews have to be referred to "the team".
Daley was voted BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year for the second time in 2009 and now rubs shoulders with the glitterati of world sport and showbusiness. Last year he was snapped by David Bailey and met supermodel Kate Moss. They chatted about his fascination for photography – one of his GCSE subjects. Daley persuaded her to model for a course project in which he had chosen to recreate famous works of art as photographs, one in particular inspired by David Hockney. He has also discovered girls – or at least one: tennis prodigy Laura Robson, with whom he has exchanged texts.
Daley is quick to point out, however, that he has dedicated himself to diving for the past eight years. "People looking at me on television might think it's a glamorous life. Trust me, it's far from that. I've been working my socks off since I was seven, training four hours a day, six days a week. Some seem to think I'm absolutely filthy rich, getting millions of pounds. I can assure you I'm not."
The once tiny Tom is growing up – in every sense. At 15 he is six inches taller than he was at the 2008 Olympics – he is now 5ft 7in – and more muscular. Of course the trouble with boy wonders is that by the time they take the plunge into manhood, many sink without trace. However, the consensus is that this will not be the fate of the chirpily self-confident Daley.
Britain's Russian performance director, Alexei Evangulov, says: "He is at the peak of his puberty so it is dangerous to make him do all the difficult dives. We have to work gradually and carefully and not break him. His quality of dive is perfect – that's why he beats divers whose programmes have a higher degree of difficulty. Tom is fragile but I am pleased with his progress. He is getting better and stronger and technically he is a genius."
Daley, who became the youngest British world champion in any major sport in Rome last summer, says: "I'm feeling a lot sharper than I have been lately and I'm really looking forward to Sheffield. It's a great opportunity to compete in front of a home crowd."
Beijing, he says, was the best experience he could have for 2012, despite the acrimonious public squabble with his now ditched synchro partner Blake Aldridge – Daley is concentrating on the solo 10m board for now.
"It's going to be hard in London because I am going to be held up as one of the faces of 2012 but the pressure can only be a good thing. If you start thinking too early about what sort of performance you are going to do, that's where it all goes wrong, so I'll just give it my best shot, that's all I can do." Doubtless Team Tom will concur.
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