On an industrial estate just south of Leeds city centre, diving world champion Tom Daley took the first steps on a journey to London 2012 he will make without the support and companionship of his father, Rob. For a lesser individual, it might have been an ordeal too far, given that Rob Daley, who died of brain cancer last month aged 40, was laid to rest only last Wednesday.
Tom pulled out of one of his speciality events at the British Gas national championships at the John Charles Centre for Sport, deciding he and his partner, Peter Waterfield, were not prepared for the men's 10 metre synchro which brought him one of his two gold medals at last year's Commonwealth Games. But, believing his father would have wanted him to compete, Tom took to the springboard for the men's 3m individual and will be in action on the 10m platform today.
Andy Banks, his coach at Plymouth Diving Club, said that had Daley not felt ready to compete this weekend he could have withdrawn, but that he believed his father would have been "heartbroken" had he stayed away.
"When I spoke to him on the Sunday after his father had passed away on the Friday, virtually the first thing Tom said to me was that he wantedto come in and train on the Tuesday morning," Banks said. "He said it was because that's what his dad would have wanted. And he said he was definitely going to do the nationals, because that was also what his dad would have wanted."
By the poolside, Daley appeared relaxed, smiling with his fellow competitors, waving to spectators and mingling with fans. There was a place, too, for his sense of humour to which he gave expression in a Tweet at the end of the 3m springboard preliminary round, when he confessed he "nearly fell of the board twice...:) brilliant! Haha...springboard and I don't see eye to eye sometimes!"
Having qualified in sixth, Daley finished fifth in the final, won by Jack Laugher. There was never any expectation that Daley would challenge for the medals. "I came here to compete because my dad would have wanted me to be here." he said. "But it is not my main event, I train for the springboard once a week and I do enjoy it but I use it as a fun event and to get into the competition. My main event is the 10m tomorrow and I can't wait."
Banks added: "He was a little worried that some people might think he shouldn't be here, that he should be at home grieving, but they are a remarkable group of people, the Daley family, tremendously strong and supportive to one another. I've seen Tom wobble only once, on the day his father died, and his family have come here today to be with Tom."
Rob Daley died five years after being diagnosed with a brain tumour. Yet, in spite of the draining effects of the illness and chemotherapy he had to undergo, Rob attended every competition in which his son took part until the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October, when doctors advised him not to travel.
He doubted his ability to survive to see his son in London next September only when a second tumour was discovered in February this year but, determined not to be defeatist about his condition, Rob was at the poolside, in his wheelchair, when Tom won the men's 10m synchro final in partnership with Waterfield at the Diving World Series leg in Sheffield in April. It would be the last event he would attend and the last in which Tom would participate until this weekend.
Tom's preparation for London 2012 will be based on four events. These begin with the World Championships in Shanghai next month, when he is expected to attempt a tougher programme than he followed when he unexpectedly won the 10m title two years ago. Next year he has the World Cup in London in February, an Olympic qualifying event, plus the National Cup and the British Championships.
At none of these events will he be competing, in the words of his coach, "for his father".
"I think it would be dangerous for Tom to think along the lines of diving for his father because if he did badly he would feel not only bad for himself but that he had let his father down, too," Banks said. "Tom's view is that his dad, somehow and somewhere, is waving his big Union Jack and yelling at the top of his voice as he always did and that's a wonderful image for him to carry."
Daley's was not the only emotionalcomeback at Leeds. In the women's 10m individual, Monique Gladding, who is another Olympic hopeful, made her first competitive dive since she narrowly escaped death in an accident at a World Cup event in Russia in February, when her international team-mate, Nick Robinson-Baker, pulled her unconscious from the bottom of the pool after she had struck her head on the concrete diving platform.