It says much for Tom Daley's remarkable run of form that the man who was only three months ago his fiercest critic yesterday backed the diver to break China's dominance at this summer's Olympic Games. In February, the British Diving performance director, Alexei Evangulov, publicly questioned Daley's Olympic credentials, claiming he was the fifth-best 10 metre platform diver in the world.
But in the months since, the Russian has been forced to completely change his assessment. After being crowned World Series champion for the first time last month, Daley, who turned 18 yesterday, reclaimed his European title in Eindhoven on Sunday night. The Plymouth diver blitzed his opponents, who included the former world champion, Gleb Galperin, with a personal-best 565.05.
It left Evangulov in no doubt that Daley can win a medal at the Olympic Aquatics Centre this summer. "That result will scare the Chinese – it will get them worried," he said. "Thomas is diving very well at the moment. With no obstacles in his way he is doing very well. In a way, he is equal with the Chinese at the moment. Two years ago, or even last year, I would not say this. You remember what I said in the press – he was fifth in the world. Now I can say he is top three."
Daley's success in the Netherlands, as he reclaimed the crown he first won as a 13-year-old, was his second personal best in as many meets. While Evangulov concedes he still has ground to make on China's world champion, Qiu Bo, whose best is in excess of 600, and Lin Yue, he believes Daley is capable of doing it. "If you look at his results, his personal best, it's still below the Chinese," he said. "But there is one thing that makes me optimistic – the Chinese scores are high but last year and two years ago they were at the same level.
"They are close to 600 but they are not improving. Thomas is getting closer. I don't know if we will have enough time or not [before the Olympics] but he is getting closer. Thomas is not even at his best now. I expect that in July he will be better, we are training him so that will happen."
Evangulov's comments are in stark contrast to his critical view of Daley before February's World Cup, when he claimed the teenager was allowing his media commitments to affect his training. Evangulov likened Daley to tennis's fallen star Anna Kournikova and claimed his Chinese rivals trained "three times harder".
However, Evangulov sounded a note of caution. "We must remember though that it will not be easy for Thomas. Qiu Bo is one of the best ever divers technically on the platform," he stressed.