Australia may be lagging behind Team GB in the medals table, and fretting about how to narrow the massive sporting supremacy of the soap-dodging Poms, but it was one of their blokes who last night rocked the world of diving – China especially – by winning the 10-metre platform event here.
With one of the greatest single scores ever seen in an Olympic competition, Matthew Mitcham, a 20-year-old from Brisbane, took gold on his last dive, denying China a medals clean sweep. Before last night the hosts had won all seven events.
Britain's Tom Daley, upon whose slender 14-year-old shoulders a nation had invested so much premature hope, finished a creditable seventh. In his first Games, this was an excellent effort, and one that suggests he will be well-placed to "train on" and become a contender in 2012.
"It was great, my first Olympics and I enjoyed myself all the way through," said Daley, who was supported by a sizeable party of Team GB sportspeople, including the triple gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Hoy. The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, was also in attendance.
"I never even expected to qualify for these Games so that in itself was good," Daley said. "And I never expected to get to the semi-finals, let alone the final. So to do that and then get a top-eight finish which qualifies me for the world series events is amazing. There were some dives I did miss but I still loved every second. I was nervous, but good nerves with lots of adrenalin – in the final I was just out to enjoy myself."
Mitcham scored four perfect 10s on his last dive, a backward two and a half somersaults with two and a half twists with a tariff of 3.8, at the top end of the scale. The crowd – primarily made up of flag-waving locals who were expecting an eighth gold from the boards – gasped in appreciation. The dive earned 112.10 points, to give Mitcham a total of 537.95, four ahead of China's Zhou Luxin in second.
"The divers out there dived absolutely amazingly and I couldn't keep up because of my tariff," said Daley, who now plans to learn tougher dives with higher tariffs to make him a genuine challenger. The boy from Plymouth is undoubtedly talented, as a senior European title this year showed, but to vie for gold at world level, he needs a stronger set of dives. His best results to date have largely come from doing easier dives exceptionally well.
"It was an unbelievable finish from Mitcham," he said. "To get all those 10s, that is probably the highest score I have ever seen in one dive."
This was Australia's first ever platform title, and their first diving gold since 1924. Zhou had it all to do anyway diving after Mitcham in the sixth round but ended his chances by crooking his entry on that last dive. Russia's Gleb Galperin won bronze. Zhou's team-mate, Huo Liang, was fourth. The hosts have none the less taken 11 of the 24 diving medals on offer at the Water Cube in what has been their most successful sport at a record-shattering Games in terms of their gold haul.
Zhou led through the first five rounds, earning three 10s on his penultimate dive but the 20-year-old Beijinger was blown out of the water by Mitcham at the last. Mitcham emerged from the water after his own last dive and fell to his knees, weeping. Later, joyous on the top of the podium, he was cheered to the rafters by a small posse of yellow-wigged compatriots.
Most of these competitors will still be around and in their peak years when London 2012 comes around. Daley faces multiple challenges to get there and take them on. He has no idea how his body will develop through puberty, or how that will affect his diving. His coach, Andy Banks, last night also said that the media attention on his charge had included "photographers chasing after him as if he were Madonna".
But Banks was overwhelmingly positive. "We had three goals here with Tom and they've been achieved. First, we wanted him to be happy and proud of what he did. Second, we wanted him to learn, and there have been enough lessons to fill a book. And we wanted him to have fun, and he did.
"Secretly, I wanted him to make the final, that was another aim. To then finish seventh in the world aged 14 is great. He's shown what he's capable of."€
Britain's other representative, Peter Waterfield suffered the frustration of finishing 13th in qualifying and missing out on the final by one place.