James Lawton: Oldest teenager Tom Daley labours under pressure

He came to his first dive with the demeanour of a condemned man

The Aquatic Centre

Tom Daley, who for so long has been a delight of the sporting nation, was last night fighting not just for his Olympic life but his status as an authentic contender for the highest prizes of his sport. It was as though he was in the dock rather on top of a diving platform.

He made it through at the desperate finish, producing a decent final dive in the 10-metre platform preliminaries and ranking 15th of 18 qualifiers.

An additional discouragement was that the red hot Chinese favourite Qui Bo, a 19-year-old who has not been beaten for over two years, was operating almost entirely on a different planet.

Daley, in a mood of cranked up optimism the other day, said that there was something robotic about the world's No 1 diver and that sometimes robots fall apart.

Qui Bo may be a robot but all the evidence is that he is perfectly wired.

By comparison it is necessary to say that if life was ever easy for Daley, if he had a certain momentum that insisted he would be a superstar, it is beginning to seem like a rather long time ago

Plainly shaken, he headed off for this morning's semi-finals – when he must improve by three places to join the 12 finalists – confessing, "It was far too close for my liking. It was a tough competition out there. I don't normally compete at that time of night for one and there was the 32 competitors in it as well meaning you had to wait half-an-hour between dives."

He also blamed the pressure created by the home crowd and the fact that his legs were tired after four dives.

It didn't quite explain why he looked so nervous at the start and why his first effort – a back two and a half somersault with two and a half twists – was a disaster which left him at 18th – the final qualifying place – after the first round.

He had come to the platform with the demeanour of a condemned man.

Even at this early point you had to wonder when the self-belief first began to drain away.

Maybe it was four years ago, in Beijing, when the grooming of the 14-year-old superstar-elect had become so intense he had already developed the trick of slipping a sponsor's name check into most of his answers. But that was the greening of Tom Daley, the instant 14-year-old commodity.

By the fourth round, he had moved up to seventh and there was a little more lightness in his stride up the steps to that platform which can suddenly be one of the loneliest places in all of Olympic sport.

For a little while Daley's recovery may just have persuaded his Russian performance director Alexei Evangulov to soften if not withdraw from his position that these are the pivotal days in the career of the 18-year-old who was supposed to be a sensation both in Beijing and here in London – but instead is deep in crisis.

Before this latest ordeal, Daley was saying, "Pressure isn't a bad thing. I quite like pressure going into a competition. Divers either handle pressure or they don't. And I've had it going into competitions for a long time and I've had the Olympic experience. There was certainly a lot of pressure in Beijing.'

There has been quite a bit in London, too, and it was the dispensing of some of it that was maybe Daley's greatest challenge last night.

It did not help that Qui Bo performed like a demi-god of a most demanding discipline, a man of infinite calm and judgement.

"Competing in London," Daley had said, "I can use the experience of Beijing and remember that I have plenty of success in competition and the only difference with this one is the five rings on the wall.

"Going into Beijing, really, it was a lifetime ago, and I just didn't know what to expect. Now I know what I have to do. Mainly I have to focus completely on the process of each individual dive and not on its outcome.

"Me and my coach don't do outcome goals, we talk about the six dives and the results look after themselves." He said it with a cheery grin, the kind he wears when he speaks about how the people who come up to him in the street and say, "Now look, Tom, just go out there and get it done, bring home that gold medal." "They make it sound like the easiest thing. It isn't but I'm not complaining, I've had a great time getting here and I'm still confident I can do something."

It is a bold resolve from arguably the oldest teenager in these Olympics, the one who has already felt some of the harshest pressure, and not least from the internet troll who last week said that he had let down his late, beloved father.

That was a piece of random cruelty. What happened last night was something that Tom Daley imposed upon himself. This morning he simply has to dive for his professional life.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Lizards, such as Iguanas (pictured), have a unique pattern of tissue growth
Anna Nicole Smith died of an accidental overdose in 2007
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Great British Bake Off' showcases food at its most sumptuous
tvReview: Bread-making skills of the Bake Off hopefuls put to the test
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home