It was the event I had been waiting for: the 10m individual diving. Daley hoping to improve on his bronze from London 2012 and add to the bronze he won with his synchro partner Dan Goodfellow.
The preliminary round took place on Friday 19th and whittled down 28 divers to 18. Daley was on top form, and overtook the Chinese divers of Qiu Bo and Chen Aisen in the third round. Things were looking good; Daley was diving at his best. His lowest score of the six was 88.0 for his first dive, an inward 3.5 somersault with tuck. His best dive was his fourth: a forward 4.5 somersault with tuck, which scored a huge 103.6.
Daley finished the prelim in first place ahead of the world champion, Qiu Bo, world series winner Chen Aisen (unbeaten in 2016), and defending Olympic champion in American David Boudia. To add to this, he scored a new personal best of 571.85. It all looked promising, the bookies cut their odds on Daley from 9/1 to 3/1. Yet we had to remain calm, this after all was the prelim round – there were another six dives to go to get into the final.
The next morning Daley returned to the pool with the divers starting afresh on the scoreboard. Daley would dive last in each round and kicked things off with an inward 3.5 somersault, scoring 78.4. It was lower than his preliminary score but we weren’t too worried – we assumed he was holding back for the final, remembering that Jack Laugher just snuck into the 3m final after a bad showing in the semi-final.
The next two dives however were off from the previous day’s competition. Dive two – a forward 3.5 somersault with twist in the pike position – scored 54 and his third – a back three somersault from an armstand start – scored just 47.25. Daley found himself in 18th with only the top 12 qualifying. It was time for a fightback.
Things were looking up when Daley pulled out an 81.4 for his forward 4.5 somersault with tuck, and then 91.8 for his reverse 3.5 somersaults with tuck. Daley had moved up to 15th with qualification in his sights – just 18 points shy of 12th place.
In true nail-biting style it came down to his final dive. Daley would be the last to dive and needed a three-figure score. 101 would see him match 12th place with Woo Haram of South Korea on 453.85. 102 would see him push Woo into 13th. This equated to needing 9.5s minimum from the judges. His final dive? A back 3.5 somersault with pike. We held our collective breath.
Daley’s take-off was good and the somersaults were strong, but it would be the entry into the water that would hinder the points. By over-rotating on entry, he caused a splash, and scored
6.0, 6.0, 5.0, 4.5, 4.5, 4.5, 4.0 . The top two scores and the bottom two were eliminated then multiplied by the dive’s degree of difficulty (3.6). Daley took just 50.4, ending in 18th place on 403.25.
No one said Daley was guaranteed a medal, however commentators were shocked to see an early exit. In his post-competition interview he was clearly upset, reflecting on the last four years to get to Rio, reflecting on his personal best – an Olympic record in the preliminary round.
“It wasn’t meant to be and that’s what diving does sometimes,” he started. “I truly am heartbroken, because I really do feel I’m in peak physical condition and I could really go out there and I could’ve won tonight. It’s really, really hard to accept how it went today.”
He added, “Things weren’t clicking. I was giving it my all and so up for it today, training beforehand was really good. In the competition it fell apart.”
However Daley would not be beaten down.
“I’m so happy with the way the whole of Team GB have done at these Olympic Games. It makes me so proud to be part of Team GB. I just wanted to stand on top of the podium and replicate some of last night. It wasn’t meant to be… It didn’t feel any different, I felt good with myself, I guess my mind and body weren’t connecting I knew I had a shot still on the last dive, I needed 102, I was working out, which is basicly 9.5s and 10s and I gave it my all. It just didn’t happen today.”
It doesn’t sound like Daley has any plans to throw in the shammy, saying, “Another four years of hard work and I can get it next time… I am really happy (answering a point about his successes). After 2012 I came away with the Bronze and here I got a bronze in syncro with Dan and we worked really hard at that. I just really wanted to get that Olympic Gold medal this time round, but there’s always another four years… Tokyo is defiantly in my sights, even more than ever now… Those five (Olympic) rings on the wall mean so much to me… I’m going to give it my best shot and work even harder than ever before.”
It isn’t just heartbreaking for Daley but also for fans like me who have followed him since before Beijing. Daley is still a double Olympic medallist in successive games and, to add to that, world champion at 15, current European champion, and current Commonwealth gold-medallist. Let’s not forget the work he has done to raise the profile of Team GB’s diving.
British swimming (including diving) has had its best Olympics since 1908. When Tokyo comes around in four years, Daley will still be young at 26. No doubt there is more to come from Daley.
While I wish I was writing a different article today, winning a medal doesn’t affect the level of pride I have for Daley it is still sky high. I look forward to Tokyo 2020 with a little more excitement, knowing that Daley will be going to his fourth games and bringing with him the lessons learned so far on his journey.