Tom Daley admitted he had feared his glorious golden moment was never going to come after finally fulfilling his 20-year Olympic dream.
The poster boy of British diving started out in the sport as a seven-year-old and memorably made his Games debut aged 14 at Beijing 2008.
But despite winning bronzes at both London 2012 and Rio 2016, only on Monday and at his fourth Games was Daley able to claim the one medal he really craved – sensationally winning the synchronised 10-metre platform with partner Matty Lee.
Tom Daley (right) won gold in the synchronised 10-metre platform with partner Matty Lee
‘I dreamt since I started diving 20 years ago for this moment, said Daley after winning gold
‘Many times I’ve doubted that this moment would ever come,’ confessed Daley, who was in tears as he stood on top of the podium and the national anthem played out at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
‘I dreamt since I started diving 20 years ago for this moment, becoming an Olympic champion. But to take it to my fourth Olympics, where a lot of people would have not considered it my peak Games, it is unbelievable.
‘I thought Rio was going to be the Olympics where I had the best chance of becoming an Olympic champion and that turned out completely opposite. Then in 2018, I had broken shins. Starting off last year, I broke my hand. Even up until June, I had a pretty bad knee injury – I tore my meniscus and went under knee surgery.
‘It was either I couldn’t walk or have surgery, so I had to risk it. There was a chance that I wasn’t actually going to be able to be here because they said it would be four to six weeks, and it was six weeks by the time we left for Tokyo.
‘But my husband said to me my story wasn’t finished and that our child was meant to watch me become an Olympic champion. I can now say he has – albeit on TV. I genuinely still can’t believe it actually just happened.’
It was three years ago that Daley had son Robbie with his husband Dustin Lance Black, who he was seen speaking to on a poolside TV screen after collecting his gold medal. And the 27-year-old has credited fatherhood with transforming his fortunes in his sport.
‘Being a father was a massive turning point in my career as an athlete,’ said Daley. ‘I realised whether I did really well or terribly I can go home to a husband and son who love me regardless.
‘Knowing that love is unconditional to go and stand on that diving board, I can take that pressure off myself and enjoy it. It has changed my whole perspective.’
Daley, who came out as gay in 2013, said he wanted to be an inspiration to LGBT athletes
‘I feel incredibly proud to say I’m a gay man and also an Olympic champion,’ explained Daley
Daley also said he hoped his victory would serve as an inspiration to young LGBT people. ‘I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion,’ explained Daley. ‘When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was.
‘I hope that any young LGBT person out there can see that no matter how alone you feel right now, you are not alone. You can achieve anything.’
Daley’s only regret was that his own inspirational father, Rob, was not alive to see his crowning moment, having died from a brain tumour in 2011.
‘I really wish that my dad was able to see me win any Olympic medal,’ said Daley. ‘‘When he passed away in 2011, it was extremely difficult for me.
‘He never got to see me compete in London or in Rio or here, but I know he would be extremely proud of how I have become an Olympic champion. It was always our dream growing up.’
Daley has only been diving with 23-year-old Lee since 2018. But they won world bronze together the following year and were tipped for at least a podium place here after victories at the European Championships and a Tokyo test event in May.
Daley suffered broken shins in 2018 and had to undergo knee surgery earlier this year
Lee (left) grew up idolising Daley. ‘Now we are best mates and Olympic gold medallists’
However, to do that they had to overcome the formidable world champion Chinese pair. Daley and Lee trailed Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen after three of six dives but an error by the favourites in the fourth round put the British duo ahead.
They were able to sustain that lead going into the final and most difficult dive, which they executed perfectly to score 101.01. And that proved to be enough, despite an agonising wait to see the final result after Cao and Chen scored 101.52 with their last effort – meaning just 1.23 points separated the pairs.
‘We were waiting and hoping to see a two next to China’s name and when we did, I just lost my c***!’ said Lee, who was making his Olympics debut.
Lee first met Daley as a nine-year-old and admitted it was surreal to win gold with his hero, who even hung the medal around his partner’s neck.
‘When I was younger, I was a fan of Tom’s and I always watched him and idolised him and I wanted to be him basically,’ added Lee. ‘Now years on we are best mates and Olympic gold medallists. It is pretty crazy.’
Daley, who begins his individual event on Friday week, had previously said he would likely retire if he completed his gold medal mission. Yet when asked if that was still the case following Monday’s win, he admitted: ‘That’s kind of one of those things you say because you want to win an Olympic gold medal but never think you actually will.
‘No, I think I’m going to carry on. I’m definitely going to take a break after this. There are some beverages with my name on it to celebrate with my husband and family at home. But there’s only three years now to Paris, so we’ll see.’