James Lawton: Tom Daley has won a bigger battle than he'll ever face in the pool

Your dive is all there is. There is no point in playing mind games

Tom Daley is maybe the oldest 18-year-old in this hair-trigger festival of competitive youth but that's not to say he's the oldest teenager. This particular distinction might just belong to his formidable rival, the 19-year-old Qui Bo, who hasn't lost in two years and is the symbol of the Chinese diving machine that expects, as impassively as ever, to march away with the gold.

Daley has already described Qui Bo as a robot but then he has not dismissed the possibility of breaking his circuit. This is the thing about robots, they work beautifully most of the time but if you could just throw something not exactly programmed in the works you might have a chance.

Daley spent a substantial part of yesterday disputing, in so many words, the recent suggestion of the British team's Russian performance director, Alex Evangulov, that the schoolboy who went to Beijing four years ago as the wunderkind of British sport might perhaps need to work just a little harder to fulfil his deepest ambitions.

"He's not my coach, he's my performance director," said Daley, "and that's all in the past. I've been training as hard as I possibly can, working on the dives and the synchro and, you know, diving is such an on-the-day thing you just don't know what's going to happen."

As Daley speaks, at times drolly but always with a startling directness, it is hard not to believe that whatever he achieves over the next two weeks his story still represents an extraordinary triumph over some of the prime dangers of an early rush to celebrity.

The loss of his father and some of the highest reaches of his early promise, and school bullying might have wreaked at least some degree of psychological damage. As he fields questions from across the world with the easiest of composure, you are reminded of another occasion when he was invited to discuss his rush to celebrity. It was in the days before the Beijing Olympics. In one press conference he managed to inject a series of advertising plugs for a range of new sponsors which was almost uncanny in its precision.

Yesterday, though, there wasn't a single sales pitch – only a bracing assessment of the nature of his sport and especially the fineness of its margins.

"Normally in diving," he said, "silver is gold because the Chinese dominate everything but then you never know what can happen in the Olympic Games. Between taking off the board and hitting the water it is 1.6 seconds and you hit the water at 34mph. You can never be sure what might happen in that time.

"It means that your dive is all there is. There is no point in mind games, nothing matters except your own performance."

Daley's bracing proposition is that the Chinese might indeed crack because the pressure they carry is so huge, so implacable, and that it reaches a potentially unbearable level in the Olympics.

Qui Bo, Daley knows, is not unbeatable. No one can claim such status in a discipline which can create ambushes at the most unexpected times, he says. But then if you could make a case for anyone's innate superiority, Qui Bo is surely a candidate. In the World Series last year he produced a staggering series and was feted in Shanghai after winning two golds in the World Championships.

Yet Daley says that he has stalked him along the highest peaks of his sport.

He explains: "He has been unbeatable for the last two years individually but I've learnt all the dives he's got so we have exactly the same degrees of difficulty. It means that suddenly it comes down to who performs best on a single day."

The boy who has seen so much, felt so much, so quickly, smiles when he talks about the pressures which come when he walks along the street. "They make it sound so easy," he says. "They say, 'Yeah, bring home the gold medal – just go and grab it, do it'. But then you know it doesn't bother me. My form has been good and, you know, I quite like pressure going into a competition. Divers either handle pressure or they don't, and I had a lot of it for a long time. It was something I got the chance to get used to.

"I had to learn so much in Beijing so quickly. There was everything to learn but in the end this brings out the best in you – and the pressure just gets the adrenalin flowing.

"The biggest lesson I learnt in Beijing, or anywhere else, is that you are lost if you do not focus on what you have to do. Over the years, I've learnt what it is to truly focus. When I work with my coach we do not do outcome, we don't talk about that, we just deal with the six dives and say that if we concentrate on that the results will look after themselves."

Tom Daley still believes he can conquer the world. It could happen in the next week or so and, who knows? It could come down to as little as 1.6 seconds.

It's one of the things he has learnt in that youth which went almost as quickly.

Thompson gripes beginning to wear thin

Daley Thompson's appearance among the early runners for the honour of igniting the Olympic cauldron here last night was always somewhat nightmarish for those who remembered his utterly tasteless performance after winning his second gold in the decathlon in Los Angeles in 1984. His lunges at humour included the wearing of a T-shirt that had the legend: Is the world's second greatest athlete gay? It was a less-than-subtle allusion to questions surrounding the multiple gold medal winner Carl Lewis.

This week he was in merely gratuitously insulting form when listing Sir Steven Redgrave, many people's favourite for last night's honour, at number nine in the last of all-time British Olympians. Redgrave, it is true, has at times been less than respectful towards Thompson, right, and the tone of his behaviour. Sometimes, it is not so hard to see why.

Bale's surrender puts Giggs' anthem neglect into perspective

Ryan Giggs has received considerable flak for his refusal to make the usual token mouthing of the national anthem – but you do have to wince at another example of selective indignation.

If Giggs, above, despite his Mancunian accent and long-time absence from the Welsh national team, couldn't bring himself to sing along with his English colleagues in the Great Britain team whose cause he so recently and passionately adopted, he has the formidable defence of living in a free country.

Indeed the Welshman who invites rather more disquiet is Gareth Bale, who has so demonstrably submitted to pressure at Tottenham while abandoning his Olympic interest. His involvement in a Mickey Mouse tour match for Spurs against LA Galaxy while supposedly injured tells us all we need to know about the dynamics of the club and country argument at this point in the 21st century.

We were led to believe that Bale relished the idea of Olympic football but it must have been a myth – either that or he performed a particularly feeble surrender when Andre Villas-Boas put his foot down.

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