Diving: Tom Daley tucks away an Olympic bronze medal

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After enduring a difficult build-up to the Games, the Team GB teenager is happy to finish third despite leading going into the final round

The Aquatics Centre

A bronze medal may not stand for much amid Britain's rush for Olympic gold but do not let the colour diminish the scale of Tom Daley's achievement last night. This is an 18-year-old who has survived an Olympic cycle of ever-increasing pressure, occasionally poisonous off-stage carping and, above all, the death of his father, Rob, the man who 11 years ago paid £25 so his son might have his first diving lesson.

It could have been better – it might, just might, have been gold. He led into the final round by a margin of 0.15 of a point, as meaningless an advantage as it looks. But his two rivals, the American David Boudia and the Chinese favourite, Qiu Bo, had higher difficulty dives remaining. If done correctly they would attract higher scores and both men – without apparent nerve – did what they had to in a competition of the highest class. Each earned three-figure marks but Daley's 90.75 was not enough and the gold was gone. Instead it went to Boudia, with Qiu, a disappointed pre-competition favourite, taking silver.

A medal matters though. First there was a faint smile as Daley accepted where he would be standing on the podium, then a moment later he was in the pool with the entire British diving team and several of the coaches, fully dressed, following him. It was a moment to be enjoyed, not a time to reflect on what could have been. A handful of minutes later he was on that podium, jumping up and down like the teenage boy he is.

"It was about time my family had some good news," said Daley afterwards. "I've got something to show for all the hard work. Although it's a bronze medal, it's a gold medal for me. It's a symbol of all the effort I've put in. All the pressure I've had on me going in to the Olympics has been overwhelming to say the least."

That he has a temperament beyond most twice his age had become clear from the first time he hit the water last night. It began disastrously, or so it seemed. His programme opened with a dive rated his second most difficult – competitors vary their six attempts at levels between 3.0 and 3.7, with Daley's first, a back two and a half somersaults, two and a half twists pike worth 3.6. It was marked a medal-ruining 75.6, the second worst of the opening round.

But Daley had been followed from the board to the water by a succession of camera flashes going off in the stands. He told Andy Banks, his coach, and they lodged an appeal that fell on favourable ground.

It meant he could dive again. He returned to the top of the platform and made the most of a second chance with 91.8 to put him straight in among the leaders. His second round was his lowest, 86.4, and he dropped to fifth but that was followed by his most difficult, a forward tuck with four and a half somersaults. It was his dive of the night, the one that demonstrated he was capable of winning a medal and brought him 98.05. His penultimate dive almost matched it but nothing matched the roar from a Union flag bedecked crowd when the leaderboard placed a bright red No 1 next to his name. They were still roaring 20 minutes later, never mind that the figure had changed to a three.

A long day had begun with an improving performance in the semi-finals after his struggles in qualification. Daley had emerged from the dressing room an hour before the final and chatted happily with the rest of the British team as he taped up his hands – diving from 10 metres wears and tears the body. On the other side of the Olympic Park Mo Farah was earning his place in not only British sporting history but also the 116‑year history of the modern Games.

Daley is now a footnote in that – it is Britain's first individual diving medal for 52 years – but there should be more, and better, to come. He has always insisted Rio in four years' time will see him at his peak.

It is already three years since Daley became a world champion, a title that arrived in part due to a loss of nerve by both Qiu and Zhou Luxin, the Chinese favourites – there is no other sort in diving. He was 15 and the youngest Briton to hold such a title in any sport.

It did not seem to phase him, but then very little has, even at the age of 14 when he arrived in Beijing as Britain's youngest Olympian for 48 years and fascinated the world's media. There has always seemed something half-man, half-boy about him. He is – or appears to be – an effortless performer in front of the media. In February he was publicly criticised by Alexei Evangulov, Britain's unpredictable performance director, during the London World Cup, which was doubling as a test event for the Olympic Aquatics Centre.

Daley, and his partner, Pete Waterfield, performed badly and Evangulov's barbed suggestion that Daley devoted too much of his time to commercial and media activity at a cost to his sporting performance was cruelly targeted and timed. He also accused him of being overweight.

That night beneath the steep stands of the Aquatics Centre, Daley faced a cluster of reporters. The questions were blunt, the responses disarming: injury, early days in a training schedule that was aimed to peak the next time he was in the capital, no problem with Alexei.

What made the point to Evangulov, and anyone else who cared to notice, most eloquently was his form once the season's world series got underway. It was the best he had ever dived, a first in Tijuana and then seconds in Moscow, Beijing and Dubai. At the European championships on the eve of the Games he produced a career- best score to win gold, but then there is rather less pressure at a European event, and no Chinese either.

Last night was pressure, intense sporting pressure, but this is what his life has long been. "It was shit or bust," he said. "Go out there and give it your best shot." And he did.

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