James Lawton: Boy wonder Tom Daley has another chance to fulfil promise after latest Olympics agony

In diving, Daley said, you just never know for sure what's going to happen next

The Aquatics Centre

Hauntingly and prophetically, Tom Daley the other day estimated how long it takes to know the difference between flying with the eagles and making a pancake landing. It is 1.6 seconds and then you slam into the water, at 34mph.

This is not much time in which to crowd four years of déjà vu but when yesterday he walked into the late afternoon sunshine without the gold medal – or one of any kind – which had beckoned so brightly less than an hour earlier, you knew that he had travelled all the harrowing way back to Beijing.

He had a few more guards against the despair that engulfed him as a 14-year-old battling the pressure of his first Olympics, and no doubt it helped that another, much older partner in the synchronised 10m platform event this time took on the burden of blame.

But there was no hiding from the pain that came at the end of one of the toughest years of his brief but hugely celebrated life. It is that particularly harsh torment which you know is going to accompany you for quite a sizeable slice of your life. It's the one wrapped around the possibility you have missed the greatest opportunity that would ever come your way.

That certainly seemed to be in the air when Daley and Waterfield reached the halfway point of three brilliant dives in the gold medal position, nearly two points clear of the Chinese favourites Yuan Cao and Yanguan Zhang. But as the former infant prodigy kept hammering home these last few days, the moment you speculate on the future while taking your eye off the moment you already have one foot in disaster.

Waterfield, whose success in Athens was watched by the 10-year-old Daley from a Cornwall caravan site, was quick enough to take the blame, saying: "I kicked my heels up too high on the fourth dive – and then I said: 'Sorry, mate'."

At the end, when they had slipped to fourth place, behind the refrigerated Chinese, the marvellously aggressive Mexicans, German Sanchez Sanchez and Garcia Navarro, and the Americans Nick McCrory and David Boudia, the British pair gave each other a small, sad hug – and Daley said: "We win as a team – and we lose as a team."

These were sentiments which may have come from behind gritted, immaculately polished teeth but they certainly were a lot easier on the mind than the aftermath of the last place Daley shared with Blake Aldridge in the Beijing Water Cube. That had all the soothing properties of the drive off the cliff edge in the last reel of Thelma & Louise.

Aldridge savaged the kid, calling him "Thomas" and saying that he had contributed to the loss of the medal he had fought for throughout his career. The boy had cracked under pressure, suffered a panic attack. Quite reasonably, the 14-year-old had certainly complained when his senior colleague decided to call his mother on his mobile phone in mid-competition.

Mother, it turned out, didn't know best on that occasion and the partnership broke up as quickly as you might imagine.

Coming into yesterday's final Daley spoke of the loss of his father to cancer. He said that the sadness would be somewhere at the back of his head as he strived to fulfil the family dream, but he also told of the endless battle to find a mature focus on the only thing that mattered at the Olympics, which is that pure concentration required for that last millisecond of each of six dives.

As Waterfield lost his fourth dive, a series of somersaults placed in the high-scoring most difficult category, a rush of disbelief reached every corner of the Aquatics Centre except the one occupied by flag-waving Chinese. They knew, in that razored second, that the threat of Daley and Waterfield had been swept away.

For Daley the obligation, as he headed away from the glare of the Olympics to the team's training camp in Southend, was to store away another set of raw emotions and clear his head for the individual battle against China's No 1 diver, the imperious 19-year-old Qui Bo.

Bo hasn't been beaten for two years but Daley does have one early victory against him. He also has the theory that if the Chinese are brilliant – and certainly we had more evidence of that yesterday from Cao and Zhang – they also tend to the robotic. That works well enough, he suggests, until the pressure becomes insurmountable. "In diving," added Daley, "you just never know for sure what's going to happen next."

Yesterday there was no argument about the general proposition – only the identity of the most likely victims. For a little while Tom Daley's long days of ultimate promise, the lionisation of a boy with a jaunty smile and a fine level of talent, seemed to be on the point of a glorious fulfilment.

He had gold at his fingertips – and the first one for Britain. It was a bewitching prospect right up to the moment Waterfield, the hero of his boyhood, raised his heels fractionally too high.

One consequence was that Daley last night received a tweet suggesting he had let down his beloved father. This left one last hope on a day of some bruising to the spirit. It was that Daley managed to reject such poison in the shortest period of time – maybe as little as 1.6 seconds.

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
Thiago Silva pulls Arjen Robben back to concede a penalty
world cup 2014Brazil 0 Netherlands 3: More misery for hosts as Dutch take third place
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Sport
Joe Root and James Anderson celebrate their record-beaking partnership
cricketEngland's last-wicket stand against India rewrites the history books
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily World Cup Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice