Real sporting greatness is within Tom Daley’s grasp here. He has already assembled an impressive body of work, with world and European championship gold medals, by the age of 18. And he has already shown remarkable character, with his precocious start to his career, competing at an Olympic games at the age of 14, and of course the tragic loss of his father to cancer last year.
No competitive challenge matters as much as that, but Olympic success for Daley will mark him as part of British sporting elite. Not just for an Olympic medal, nor even for doing so in London, but for the prospect of turning back the Chinese tide.
Few sports are dominated by one country as much as diving and China, and when Daley and Peter Waterfield compete in the men’s synchronised 10m platform this afternoon, they will be facing the talented Chinese teenage pair of Yanquan Zhang and Yuan Cao. Qiu Bo, the brilliant Chinese 19-year-old, awaits in the individual 10m competition.
Daley knows that to beat the Chinese would be a remarkable achievement. “Normally in diving, silver is gold because Chinese dominate everything," he said. “But then you never know what can happen in the Olympic Games.”
The British pair have form on their side. Daley and Waterfield were overall winners on the 10m platform synchronised at the FINA Diving World Series earlier this year, while Daley, who is diving as well as he ever has done, also won the overall individual event. Daley was not sure which event would be harder but both will be exacting contests.
“Both events are just as strong as each other,” said Daley. “In synchro it's tough because there are eight teams and all of them could win medals. You wouldn't be able to guess the results of the men's 10m synchro. The top eight divers in the world are here and, for me, any of them could get a medal. And individually you could have great preparation and good form but it just matters what happens on the day.”
But Daley will certainly be helped today by the strength of his relationship with Waterfield, despite the 13-year age difference between them. Waterfield won silver in the 10m synchronised in Athens and Daley remembers eagerly watching him at the age of 10 while on a family caravan holiday in Newquay, adjusting the television aerial to pick up the coverage of the event.
Now they are team-mates and Waterfield said that they work well together. "As far as chemistry, we've both got dreams and we've both got aspirations and we both want to achieve the same things,” explained the senior partner. “By working as hard as we can for each other, and getting the best out of each other, hopefully we can go and win a medal."
But they cannot spend all their time together, even at their holding camp in Southend. Waterfield is old enough to have a son just seven years younger than Daley and the pair naturally move in different circles. “When we're out of the pool the younger ones usually stay together,” Waterfield said. “I've got an 11-year-old boy and even he tells me to go away sometimes, so I wouldn't want to cramp Tom's style."
Daley is probably relaxed about it. After the few years he cannot possibly be said to be daunted by anything. The prospect about competing against the greatest diving nation in the world in front of a partisan crowd just seems to excite him. "Pressure isn't a bad thing,” he said. “I quite like pressure going into a competition. In a competition, divers either handle pressure or they don't. For me, I've had pressure going into competition for a long time now and it's something I've been able to get used to.”