Tom Daley: Team GB diver discusses Tokyo Olympics ambitions and how fatherhood has changed him

August 11, 2008, Beijing National Aquatics Center. A fresh-faced 14-year-old Tom Daley takes to the diving board at his first Olympic Games full of youthful exuberance with the eyes of a nation watching on back at home.

Two more Olympics, a marriage, and a son later, Daley’s smile and personable nature are still apparent yet there is an emotional maturity that exudes him.

After once assuming the role of the ‘baby’ of Great Britain’s diving squad, the country’s most decorated athlete in his sport tells Sky Sports News he now feels like the ‘grandad’ in the team ahead of his fourth Games.

    Daley said: “Back in 2008 I had no idea what I was getting myself into and it was all about just going there for the experience and just enjoying it and taking in as much of it as possible.

    “2012 was different because of the home crowd and that pressure, 2016 I felt that I was in the best physical shape so I put all of that pressure on myself and I didn’t really have anything else outside of my sport.

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    “I was engaged and I think that really helped me after the Olympics in 2016 to come back and be thinking about planning a wedding, then Robbie was born and all of those kinds of things and I was able to have that shift in perspective and responsibility almost to leave diving in the pool.”

    Daley has had to deal with the attention and hype surrounding his exploits in the pool even prior to making his Olympic debut, but over the last few years, fatherhood and wellness advocacy have brought him a different focus and outlook on life.

    His 885,000 YouTube subscribers have enjoyed yoga challenges, cooking and insights into his training and family life in the build-up to the Games.

    With his marriage to director and producer Dustin Lance Black, and the birth of Robbie in 2018, who is named after Daley’s late father, the 27-year-old has grown up a lot since bursting onto the diving scene 13 years ago.

    “My son was three at the end of June so my perspectives have shifted massively,” he said.

    “Firstly I’m a father and secondly I’m an athlete so that changed perspective going into the Games does change how I think about it because if I do well or if I do terribly I’m going to go back to my family and they’re going to love me for who I am.

    “Just having that and knowing that takes so much pressure off me and I can just go there and enjoy it and dive better because I’m not going to have that pressure on.”

    ‘GB have medal chances in all of the synchro events’

    Two Olympic bronze medals, two 10m platform World Championship golds, four first-place finishes at the Europeans and four Commonwealth Games triumphs constitute an impressive record for Daley heading into Tokyo, which may be his final appearance at a Games.

    The Plymouth-born athlete is playing down his recent gold at the FINA Diving World Cup, which was also held in the Japanese capital earlier in 2021, and insists experience has taught him not to count on form when it comes to the Olympics.

    He will compete in the men’s synchro 10m platform final with diving partner Matty Lee on Monday while the individual 10m platform events take place on August 6 and 7.

    Reflecting on his recent displays, Daley said: “The competitions in May for the World Cup and the European Championships all went really well for me, but I also understand as an older athlete on the team, the grandad, I also feel like when you go to an Olympic Games, no matter how well or how poorly you’ve done in the year, the Olympic Games are the Olympic Games.

    “You’ve got to do well on that day so I just want to get to the start line in the best shape possible and stand there and have no regrets that I can do the job.”

    Aquatics for Team GB is arguably stronger than it’s ever been before. Adam Peaty could defend his 100m Breaststroke title, while Max Litchfield, Tom Dean, Duncan Scott and Molly Renshaw are among the other favourites to claim a medal in the 32-person strong swimming team.

    The scenario is equally as promising for diving with Daley, Jack Laugher and Dan Goodfellow leading their 12-athlete squad for Tokyo.

    “I think the team is extremely strong,” Daley said, “it’s the first time in British diving history that we’ve qualified for every quota spot at the Games.

    “It’s the biggest team and it’s certainly the strongest team, we have a lot of medal chances at all of the synchronised events and a few of the individuals too.

    “I’m excited to see how it’s all going to go down and when it’s the Olympics you always have to expect the unexpected so it always makes for good competition.”

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    Along with his shift in perspective prompted by big changes in his personal life since Rio 2016, Daley feels philosophical about these Olympics following a tumultuous build-up in which the status of the postponed Games was thrown into jeopardy on multiple occasions because of coronavirus.

    He insists there have been benefits for athletes who have adjusted to ever-changing protocols and unexpectedly had to prolong their training cycles by 12 months.

    Daley said: “I just feel extremely lucky that it’s going ahead in the first place and I think we have to be respectful of the Japanese people and the fact that they’re hosting us and we need to do all that we can to make them feel safe as well.

    “At the end of the day it’s a sports competition, we’re not saving lives here so it’s about just being able to put it into perspective.

    “I think if this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that you have to be ready for change and adjust and learn to control the controllable and not the uncontrollable.

    “In that sense, it almost feels like a bonus year. To be able to have that extra year to focus on the little things, the time away from the pool, more flexibility and mobility, a lot of athletes might actually come back better from this experience.”

    ‘Athletes should have the right to speak up about injustices’

    Daley battled with revealing his sexuality before coming out as gay in 2013. He is a high-profile advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and feels passionate about athletes being able to demonstrate solidarity with social injustices.

    There had been a ban placed on taking a knee at the Games but earlier this month, the IOC rolled back its Rule 50 restrictions, which state ‘no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas’.

    Daley said: “I don’t think that anyone should ever be stripped of their right to protest peacefully, at the end of the day it’s not hurting anyone.

    “Put it this way, I’m extremely lucky to be able to go for Team GB because I can live as who I am as a gay man married with a son and not be put in jail and not be killed.

    “In lots of countries which are going to the Olympics, that is a very possible outcome for people and is that fair? No. Should they speak up about it? Yes.

    “The fact that I have completely different rights as someone else going to the Games is unfair and often not much happens without somebody shouting about it.”

    After receiving online abuse in the past, Daley has urged athletes to modify their social media use during the Olympics in order to block out any negative comments which may surface on their accounts.

    The British Athletes Commission (BAC) has set up a 24-hour hotline for Team GB athletes to contact should they be targeted with any online abuse during the Games.

    He said: “I’ve experienced bad comments on things online and knowing you’re going into a Games and that you’re going to be under more scrutiny, you can delete the app completely from your phones so you never get to see it or you can just turn off commenting on photos.

    “So there are lots of ways that you can go around it but at the end of the day it shouldn’t be the case that people feel the need to write horrible comments on things anyway. But I think it’s great that they [Team GB] have sourced someone to help protect against that.”

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