Out of sync and out of sorts: Daley fails to perform on Olympic stage

How diver Tom's partnership with a former B&Q shelf-stacker fell apart under Olympic pressure
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The Independent Online

As syncronised divers, they were only as good as each other. But in several respects Tom Daley, the Plymouth schoolboy who has captivated the world's attention, and Blake Aldridge, the former B&Q shelf-stacker almost double his age, were anything but equal partners.

Whereas Daley has been fêted and adored by all who hear about his precocious talents, Aldridge has been ignored by the world's media. Yesterday, it all became too much. Shattering the pretence of cordiality that has existed between the pair for the past six months, Aldridge claimed the 14-year-old not only fluffed his Olympic debut yesterday but cost his team-mate the only chance he will ever have of winning an Olympic medal.

"I didn't blow anything and so I can go home happy with my performance," Aldridge said. "But unfortunately it's a partnership, you both have to be on the top of your game. I wasn't on the top of my game but Tom was nowhere near the top of his."

Daley, 14, was thought to have an outside chance of becoming Britain's youngest medallist but he and Aldridge finished last in the field of eight after a poor third dive.

Pointedly switching between "Tom" and "Thomas" when referring to his partner, Aldridge said: "I knew we were capable of a medal but I knew it would depend on how Tom performed. I out-dived Thomas today and that's not something that normally happens, and that, to me, is because Tom had a lot more pressure on him than I did. Tom was very nervous; more so than ever before and I think he really struggled to get through the competition."

Yesterday morning, Daley featured on the front of a special Olympic supplement in Beijing's China Daily, an English language paper with a circulation of 200,000, beneath the headline: "Peking Tom – why everyone's looking at this 14 year-old darling diver".

Asked whether the publicity surrounding his partner had made things harder for the pair, Aldridge said: "Certainly." He went on: "I think that's the sole reason why it went the way it did," before adding: "I'm not disappointed with my performance at all."

Aldridge, who, before taking up training full-time, stacked shelves in a B&Q store in his adopted home of Southampton, also explained that Daley "had a pop" at him between their fifth and sixth dives. "When we were sitting down," he said, "I saw my mum in the audience and I asked her to give me a call and Tom went to me 'Why are you on the phone? We're in a competition, we've got another dive to do.'"Asked why the 14 year-old snapped at him, Aldridge said: "That is Thomas over-nervous; that is how it was today... Today he was worrying about everyone and everything and that to me is the sole reason why he didn't perform today."

Daley, in contrast, said: "I was quite disappointed but it was a great experience and I really enjoyed myself. I had so much fun out there. That's all you can ask, getting the experience."

It marks the culmination of a tense relationship between Aldridge and the schoolboy from Plymouth. Selected to represent Team GB ahead of Leon Taylor, Daley's 30-year-old mentor, and Pete Waterfield, Aldridge's best friend, they amassed a British-record 446 points from six dives in winning the bronze medal at the recent World Cup. But the huge gap in their ages has proved a source of lingering disquiet.

Beijing was always a bonus for the 26-year-old, who overcame two horrific injuries earlier in his career to qualify for Beijing. Shortly after recovering from a fractured skull two years ago, Aldridge nearly lost his sight when a training dive went wrong. Waterfield, who was training with him, leapt into the water to rescue him. Aldridge, whose eyelids were so swollen that his eyelashes were facing into his eyes, needed laser treatment on two torn retinas.

By the time Daley goes on to compete in the individual 10m platform event in 10 days, Aldridge will be on his way back to Southampton.

Inequality that may have upset the balance

It's interesting that both looked fairly relaxed before the event was actually under way. So whether or not Blake Aldridge's outburst is a sign of some deeper, lingering ill-feeling depends largely on how robust he is as an individual.

There are many cases in sport where people operating in the shadow of a bigger star are forced to confront the fact that they do not make as many headlines. In the case of Matthew Pinsent and Steve Redgrave, this wasn't a big issue. But in the case of Aldridge and Daley it could be. Synchronised diving implies equality and balance.

When the two of them get on that board, the responsibility and the rewards are split 50/50. So for the publicity to be skewed so heavily to one half of the pair upsets that balance.

Striking out at your partner may be the natural reaction but it seems a pretty low blow, and has the appearance of mud-slinging or point scoring. Perhaps Aldridge felt that as the older, more mature member of the pairing it was unjust that he was being largely ignored by the media.

The irony is that his remarks cast him as the less mature one, especially given how composed Daley seems with the media.

Dr Victor Thompson, Sports psychologist