Tom Daley has always been a showman – but he provided the wrong kind of drama at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Centre.
The European and Commonwealth 10m platform champion missed out on qualification for the Olympic final after a tense final dive.
After his bronze with Dan Goodfellow in the synchro event, his appearance in the final of the solo had seemed assured. But two of his worst dive scores in international competition had him out of the running until the very final round. He needed 95 on his final dive, a back 3.5 somersault pike, to make it. In the end he under-rotated the dive and missed out on his date with destiny.
He had still looked a young boy when he lined up for his first Olympic competition eight years ago. Here, aged 22, he towered a full head over his Chinese rivals as he lined up next to them before the start. Goodfellow sat close by the pool, his legs up on a table, while Jack Laugher and Chris Mears chose a position high up in the stands.
Since winning bronze with Goodfellow, Daley had spent a week’s rest and recuperation out of the athletes’ village, relaxing in another part of the city before returning a few days ago. He certainly seemed relaxed enough as he walked out to compete here. While other divers bowed and waved to the camera, Daley simply saluted the crowd smartly with the air of someone here to do a job.
He was diving last, having qualified for this semi-final in first place with 571.85, a score that would have won him the gold medal four years ago. Walking out on to the platform with his union jack towel, he paused to stretch his calves against the rails. He can take longer than others on the board, and his first dive, an inwards 3.5 somersault tuck, put him joint fourth with USA’s David Boudia.
The danger began with Daley’s second dive, The Firework, a unique running dive his coach helped him develop after she had seen a circus performer do the move on a Russian swing. It turned into a damp fizzle, scoring only 54 and sending Daley plummeting to 17th, five places off a qualification spot. The Firework has failed to catch light before – in the world championships last year, for instance, where he still managed to finish with bronze. Daley’s next dive was a back three-somersault pike. He spent a long time in the arm stand at the end of the board, and his legs wobbled a little as he waited. When he entered the water a second or two later, even an inexpert eye could see that the splash was more Sea World than merman.
Daley was not the only athlete having a shocker – while the favourite Aisen Chen was putting in a peerless display of elegance at the top of the leaderboard, scoring almost all nines, Qui Bo, the other major gold medal contender alongside Daley, was also out of the qualification spots halfway through the competition, after a tentative arm-stand dive in the second round and an overcooked reverse somersault tuck in the third. He finally nailed his fourth effort, scoring three 9.5s.
Daley needed something similar. And he got it: his penultimate dive was a slice of brilliance, scoring 91.8, the second-highest scoring dive of the competition to that point. It dragged him up to 15th place, and back in contention. But there was no last-minute twist in the plot. For Daley, it had been a case of good dress rehearsal, bad performance.
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