Standing on the winner's podium with a gold medal around his neck, Tom Daley was enjoying his moment of glory as Britain's first world diving champion.
He had finally banished the painful memory of his disappointment at last year's Beijing Olympics, where he and his synchronised diving partner, Blake Aldridge, had a very public falling out and finished eighth.
But even Britain's youngest Olympian, it seems, is not immune to the excruciating anxiety that can be caused at any time by an embarrassing parent. At a press conference after Tom won the 10m individual platform competition in Rome on Tuesday night, his father Rob seized the microphone. Unable to stifle his pride, he told journalists: "I represent Tom Daley. I'm Tom's dad. Tom, come and give me a cuddle. Come on, please."
For the first time that evening, the young diver's ice-cool façade melted. "I could just see him at the back and see him crying and I was like, 'Oh dad what are you doing'," Daley, 15, recalled yesterday as his triumph sank in. Dutifully, albeit reluctantly, he went and hugged his father, then returned to the microphones and cameras, muttering, "How embarrassing".
Teen angst aside, the bond between father and son runs deep. Mr Daley gave up his job making electrical machinery to take Tom to diving events around the world. The physiotherapists, trainers, nutritionists and psychologists working with the teenager also strive to keep his life as normal as possible. While he still enjoys breaks in the family caravan and going to the cinema with his mates, he has to train for three hours after school each day and again on Saturday mornings.
The pressures of school have proved more testing. The Beijing Games brought Tom global celebrity status and he was bullied with taunts of "Speedo boy" and physical threats when he returned to Eggbuckland Community College, in Plymouth. "It started off with people saying well done," Tom explained yesterday. "My close friends have really stayed by me and been really nice to me, but then everyone started being stupid and calling me names and throwing paper and tipping my pencil case out in front of the whole class.
"They called me 'diver boy' and said, 'How much are your legs worth? I'll break them.' Stupid threats, really. After eight months of the whole school doing it, it got a bit annoying."
Mr Daley felt the school was not doing enough to help, so earlier this year Tom moved to Plymouth College, a private school which specialises in educating elite athletes. His focus now is on winning gold in front of a home crowd at the 2012 Olympics in London, when he will have the added pressure of studying for A-levels. Tom's coach, Andy Banks, has held talks with the school about delaying his protégé's exams until the following January.
"Diving will have its day and eventually he will have to have a life outside and the academic results to fall back on," Mr Banks said. "It is all good at the moment and [his] school is massively better. He is just a typical teenager. When his dad asked him for a cuddle, I imagine he wanted to kill him."
Tom's eventual plan is to become a children's television presenter, and he has already done some work experience with the BBC in Plymouth.Reuse content