Tom Daley, a 13-year-old diver from Plymouth, took a giant leap towards becoming Britain's youngest male Olympian by winning the blue riband event at the British Diving Championships in Manchester. The teenage prodigy produced a stunning performance to win gold from the 10m platform and put himself ahead of the pack to represent Britain at this summer's Games in Beijing.
Yesterday's success, which officially makes Tom Britain's best diver, earns him a place at a qualifying event next month in the Chinese capital, where places at August's Olympic are up for grabs. On current form, he is on course to compete in the Games both in his solo discipline and in the 10m synchronised event.
The favourite for yesterday's event was Pete Waterfield, 26, who won an Olympic silver medal in the 10m synchro event at the Athens Games in 2004. In beating him, Tom became the youngest person to win the senior British 10m title.
It was his second gold medal of the weekend. On Saturday, he and his synchronised diving partner, Blake Aldridge, 25, won the 10m synchro gold medal.
"I'm over the moon," Tom said last night. "The way that Pete is diving, I never expected to beat him today. After my first two dives, which didn't go well, I knew I had to do something special to simply get into the top two, which was my aim for this event."
The 13-year-old has been diving since the age of seven. An astonishing rise last year up the rankings to 29th in the world was rewarded last month when he was voted the BBC's Young Sports Personality of the Year. He was unable to attend the awards show because he and Aldridge were in Montreal, winning another gold medal.
Watching him plunge to victory yesterday were his father, Rob, 37, his mother, Debbie, 36, and his two younger brothers, William 11, and Ben, eight. Neither of his brothers dive but both are said to excel at rugby.
Rob Daley gave up his electrician's business in 2006 after surgery to remove a fist-sized malignant brain tumour. He now accompanies Tom to all his events. "I'm just delighted for Tom," he said last night. "I gave him a hug just after the winning scores went up and he was smiling so much he could hardly talk."
The scoring system in diving is simultaneously simple and baffling. Yesterday, for example, there were three rounds preliminary, semi-final and final each with six dives. Seven judges mark each dive out of 10, and multiply those scores by tariffs of difficulty.
Tom's scores yesterday were remarkable, and both he and Waterfield collected a succession of 9.5s and perfect 10s during the rounds. Tom beat his lifetime personal best score of 480 with a 484 in the preliminary and beat it again with a 485 in the semis.
He then scored 471.10 to win gold from what seemed an unrecoverable position in the final round. Waterfield produced a succession of well-executed dives to build a big lead by the mid-way stage. But under pressure against a rival half his age, he missed a tough reverse dive while Tom was composure personified through his two-and-a-half backward somersaults with one-and-a-half twists.
"It was one of my best ever dives and it came at exactly the right time," Tom said. "You have to keep that belief. The Olympics in Beijing are on the cards now."