“I feel incredibly proud to say that I am a gay man and also an Olympic champion. When I was younger I didn’t think I’d ever achieve anything because of who I was. To be an Olympic champion now just shows that you can achieve anything.”
Still damp from the pool, still wide-eyed at winning Olympic gold with his diving partner, Matty Lee, 13 years on from his first Games, Tom Daley still had time to bring the house down again.
Daly and Lee had produced a stunning performance in the synchronised 10m platform to take the gold medal by one point ahead of the supercharged Chinese pair Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen.
For Daley this was also a very public moment of fulfilment after bronze medals in London and Rio, a period that has coincided with marriage to the film producer Dustin Lance Black and the birth of their son, Robbie.
In the glow of victory, Daley spoke with startling clarity about the pressures he has faced in the course of a life lived in a uniquely pitched public glare.
“In terms of out athletes, there are more openly out athletes at these Olympic Games than any Olympic Games previously. I came out in 2013 and when I was younger I always felt like the one that was alone and different and didn’t fit. There was something about me that was never going to be as good as what society wanted me to be. 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.”
If Daley was confirming a message he has been happy to share with the world for some time, there was added significance in delivering it at a table between Chinese athletes and Russian bronze medalists, with the media of both nations broadcasting his words. Same-sex marriage is not legal in either country.
A Chinese journalist asked Daley about his son; he replied with a long, happy paternal answer. “It’s been the most amazing, life-changing journey for me and I can’t wait to go and see them, my husband and my son, to give them a big hug and be able to celebrate on this incredible journey that it has been.”
For all its flaws, its phoney platitudes about peace, love and understanding, the Olympic Games is unique in providing such moments of unscripted cultural exchange – and doing so in the course of an ad hoc exchange about winning a gold medal.
Daley can now return home having fulfilled that Olympic obsession, but denied that retirement was looming. “You want to win an Olympic gold medal but never think you actually will. I will carry on, but I will definitely take a break. There are some beverages with my name on it to celebrate with my husband and family.
“This means an incredible amount. All athletes put in such hard work and dedication into our performances. To be an Olympic champion after four attempts at it feels extremely special.”
For Lee, a gold medal at his first Olympics is a stunning achievement. To win gold with Daley, the godfather of modern British diving, is an added gloss. “I was a massive fan of Tom’s. I remember running up to him and asking for photos and signatures. I think I was about nine.
“There’s a photo of me and Tom around the year of Beijing and it’s funny because I’m just a kid with a big head. We put them together with another photo that’s more recent. It’s funny how things change. All those years I was a fan, a little kid looking up to him. Now we’re best mates and Olympic gold medallists.”
Daley was also asked about his father, who died when he was 17, and who was a major support in those early years. “When he passed away in 2011 it was extremely difficult for me because he never saw me win an Olympic medal, get married, have a child. He never got to teach me to drive, have a pint down the pub.
“None of that was ever a thing so to finally become an Olympic champion, especially after Rio 2016 where I was extremely disappointed with my individual performance. Na dit, my husband said to me that my story doesn’t end here and that our child was meant to watch me become an Olympic champion.”