Tom Daley has lived so much of his life in the public eye that these days he does it voluntarily. Almost as soon as the Rio 2016 athlete started diving at the age of seven, he attracted media attention for his prodigious talent, and now barely remembers a time when he lived a private life. At 14 he was an Olympian at the 2008 Games in Beijing, and he is marking his imminent third Olympics with the latest in a series of biographical documentaries, chronicling the changes in his life since he won bronze in the 10m platform dive at London 2012.
The first third of the film is largely taken up with his decision at the end of 2013 to come out, eight months after meeting his now-fiancé, Hollywood screenwriter Dustin Lance Black. But why did he decide it was a good idea to have cameras present when revealing his sexuality to his younger brother, Ben, who was then 14?
“I’ve had documentary cameras following me since I was nine,” he shrugs. “It’s so normal to have them around that I didn’t even think about them being there for that. It was just normal. It wasn’t about managing the story. There’s so many more LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] athletes out there going to Rio.”
Interestingly, he was unaware that two unnamed male-to-female transgender competitors may be part of Team GB in Rio, but is welcoming. “I didn’t know that. But it’s great for LGBT to be represented. No matter what your sexuality, when you’re on the starting blocks for the 100m, the fastest person wins.”
We meet three days before Daley’s departure for Rio, at a regular coffee haunt of his. It’s only a few minutes from the London Aquatics Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park where he won his 2012 bronze, which he can see from the flat he now shares with Black. The interview is shoe-horned between morning and afternoon training sessions, which explains the icepacks strapped to each tricep – routine treatment for those who throw themselves off a 10m-high board a couple of dozen times a day, hitting the water at 35mph.
But training – for five hours a day – isn’t just in the pool. At the Aquatics Centre he works a lot in the “dry dive”, a place that looks like an indoor children’s playground, with trampolines and bouncy foam pits; actually it permits endless practice of the diver’s jump from the board. Alongside the dry dive are weights – Daley squat-lifts 125kg and does press-ups with 80kg on his back – and ballet bars, where he builds core strength.
He does 11 sessions a week in the gym and dry dive, 11 in the pool, and one session of ballet. All that is fuelled by a regimented diet – egg whites, spinach and porridge for breakfast, chicken and pulses at lunch, chicken or salmon with steamed vegetables at dinner, before bed at 10pm… Every day, without fail, for years on end. He confesses he is looking forward to eating what he likes for a whole week after the Olympics are over.
“I know after that I’ll want to get back to the gym, because I don’t like being out of shape,” he says.
“But I have a real sweet tooth and I treat myself to a frozen yogurt or bit of cheesecake a couple of times a week. I’m a very keen baker. I’ve got the art of cheesecake down to a T. Celebrity Bake Off? Yep, that’s the dream.”
Given his fame exceeds that of many gold medalists, it’s worth repeating that the one title he has never won is that of an Olympic champion. This week’s documentary discusses the public pressure on him to succeed – but has he considered that the very act of making such a programme might fuel expectation?
“For me public pressure becomes irrelevant. I’ve dealt with it from such a young age. I handle it pretty well. Having a supportive fiancé means I’m the happiest I’ve ever been, in and out of the pool, which means you perform better.
“You get one shot at the Games every four years. Six dives. Mess one up and it’s over. I will be completely chuffed with any colour medal. But you can’t go into the competition thinking you’ll be happy with silver or bronze. My mentality is to think, ‘They have to beat me’, not ‘I have to beat them’. I’m going to this Olympics to win.”
For one person more than any other, maybe? It is five years since his father Rob died from a brain tumour at the age of 40.
“The Olympics were always our dream, him and me. It was heartbreaking not having him see me win bronze in London. You see me stood up there on my own, but there’s a whole team – coaches, physios, psychologists, nutritionists, strength and conditioning team, sports massage, my dad, my mum, all my family, friends, Lance… That’s why I say ‘We won’.Because I’m doing it for everyone.”
Tom Daley: Diving for Gold premieres 8pm Saturday on ITV.
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