Tom Daley took the bronze medal in the 10m platform dive on an afternoon of vertiginously high-grade competition. This was a thrilling final, perhaps the finest 10m dive competition staged, with gold and silver medals decided by the final dive of Tokyo 2020.
With six breathless rounds all but completed Cao Yuan of China, a gold medallist in 2012 en 2016, needed a stellar final effort to reclaim top spot from his countryman, Yang Jian, who had just produced a jaw-dropping forward four and a half somersaults pike, the most difficult dive in the competition.
Cao nailed it to take gold by a wafer-thin 1.95pts. Daley, who had led until the fourth round, finished 32pts back from that Chinese one-two. A bronze here to go with his gold in the synchro and successes at previous Games makes Daley the first British diver to win four Olympic medals.
In the glow of victory he refused to rule out returning for Paris 2024, when he will be 30, tempted by the lure of two extra events and by the basic joy of competing.
“There was a moment just before my first dive I looked around and I was like: ‘You know what I’m at the Olympic Games and this is bloody cool.’”
Asked about the social media abuse of LGBTQ+ athletes at these Games, Daley again used his platform to speak about the domestic happiness that has driven his success and the significance he knows it carries as a high profile athlete.
“There’s still a lot further to go, there are 10 countries competing at these Olympic Games where being LGBT is punishable by death. I feel extremely lucky to be representing Team GB, to be able to stand on the diving board as myself with a husband and a son and not worry about any ramifications.
“But I know that I’m very fortunate to have that and there are lots of people who grow up around the world with less fortunate situations.
“I just hope that seeing out sportspeople in all these different sports is going to help people feel less alone, feel like they are valued and can achieve something.
“History shows everything that society is has been dictated from the straight, wit, male experience. And there are so many different perspectives and points of view, whether that’s race, whether that’s religion, whether that’s gender, whether that’s sexual orientation, whatever it is. There are so many different points of view and if we can come together and use all those different points of view, then the world would be a better place.”
This has been a happy Games for Daley – his best he said – and as in the men’s synchro he was part of a wonderful final. The field included Rikuto Tamai of Japan, who is 14, Oleksii Sereda of Ukraine, a year older, and Cassiel Rousseau of Australia, a converted gymnast with shaggy haired dive-dude persona. But it was clear from the start that Daley and the two Chinese men were in a different class.
It was Daley’s second dive that pushed him into top spot early on, an inward three and a half somersaults that he executed nervelessly, entering the water with a reassuringly dead thunk. Yang is a less graceful diver. He meets the water without friction and has a fearless athleticism. But Yang and Cao trailed Daley by five points.
Round three was always likely to be key. The so-called “firework” is Daley’s Everest, a dive he has struggled with so profoundly at one point he sought the help of a psychologist. He was solid this time around.
Daley’s armstand back three somersault in round four was a startling spectacle. Such is the life of a diver. You perform a rock-solid handstand on the edge of a 10m board. You top it with a perfect triple somersault. You manage to emerge not just conscious but with barely a splash. At which point someone announces you’ve only scored six and half for an act so fearlessly brilliant it seems absurd any human would actually attempt it. Cao and Yang surged past.
Daley’s sixth dive, the back three and a half somersault pike, was a regal affair, enough to secure the bronze, which he celebrated by hugging his coach, waving into the cameras and taking a long deep breath at the end of a dual-medal competition that has spanned 12 dae.
Then came that bravura finish, a moment of undiluted Olympic brilliance from the two Chinese men that left Cao looking almost bemused in his moment of victory. It is a stunning record, an unbroken run of gold in this absurdly high-stakes sport that stretches back to London 2012.
Cao was first enrolled in a diving class by his mother as she wanted him to learn self-discipline. It seems safe to say that lesson has been taken on board. Like Daley he is young enough, by 26, to be back for more in Paris, where an expanded competition will offer more medals. Cao lists his hero as Cristiano Ronaldo. He laid his own claim to diving greatness here.