Tom Daley on love, grief and well being: ‘It was hammered into me that I wanted to drop a few pounds’ | Tom Daley

Tom Daley, Britain’s most embellished diver, grew up within the highlight. He was 14 when he made a splash at his first Olympics, in 2008, and at 15 he grew to become a world champion. This 12 months in Tokyo, at his fourth Video games, he lastly received a longed-for gold, together with his synchronised diving accomplice, Matty Lee. In 2013, Daley got here out – a rarity amongst skilled sportspeople – and he has turn into a campaigner for LGBTQ+ rights. Now 27, he’s married to the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, with whom he has a three-year-old son.

In a brand new autobiography, he describes struggles with damage, debilitating anxiousness and dealing with the loss of life of his father, his greatest champion. Right here, one among Britain’s best-loved athletes gamely solutions questions from our author and Guardian readers on all the above, in addition to his different nice ardour: knitting.

Which do you suppose has had a better position in your success – laborious work, luck or expertise? (Sam, UK)
I feel it’s work, expertise and luck, if I used to be to place them so as. It’s rather a lot about laborious work, having the proper mindset and with the ability to nurture what nature has given you.

What was your mindset when it got here to every of your 4 Olympics? (Margaret, Canada)
In 2008, I didn’t have many expectations; I simply wished to offer it my finest shot. In 2012, it was concerning the expertise and the house crowd. There was a efficiency aim, however I additionally knew that I had extra Olympics in me. Going into 2016, it felt like my finest probability – I used to be in the absolute best form. I put insufferable stress on myself [Daley won bronze with Dan Goodfellow in the synchronised 10-metre, but didn’t make the final in the individual event]. After I went to 2020, my perspective shifted and crucial factor for me was my household – figuring out they love me and help me, no matter how I do.

Going for gold … Daley and Matty Lee in the course of the males’s synchronised 10-metre closing. {Photograph}: Jean Catuffe/Getty Photos

How do you keep motivated for therefore a few years? What strategies do you utilize to get into the zone on competitors day? (Meena, US)
I attempt to do 10 minutes’ meditation day by day, whether or not that be respiration work, guided meditation or knitting or crochet. The elusive Olympic gold medal was what was retaining me going, however there’s all the time one thing to encourage me. It’s tough some days, like it’s for everybody, however I wish to set instance to [my son] Robbie of working laborious, that you simply don’t simply get given issues and that your finest is OK.

My dad stated: “In case you go into a contest with 18 individuals in it and also you come final, so long as you do your finest, you’re 18th-best in the entire nation. How cool is that?” I need to have the ability to cross that on to Robbie – it’s not about which medal you win, it’s concerning the perspective you may have.

What does a foul day seem like for you? How do you keep optimistic? (Kerish, the Philippines)
I want a variety of sleep and I prefer to eat, so if there’s no meals in the home then I’ll undoubtedly be barely cranky. Understanding, or simply going for a stroll, turns my temper round. Knitting can even assist, or doing one thing with Robbie.

On a foul coaching day, I used to spiral, however my coach instructed me to be like Peter Pan and fly out of it. One unhealthy day is a day in every week, in a month, in a 12 months, in a complete profession of issues which have additionally gone very well. I attempt to acknowledge it after which transfer on. In a contest, every dive is an impartial occasion. You simply should be within the second.

Have you ever ever dived from a board greater than 10 metres? (Adam, UK)
Completely not. Going as much as these 27-metre boards is terrifying. I went up there in Barcelona after the 2013 world championships and it was so excessive. I used to be like: how does any person even leap off this? Nevertheless it’s extraordinarily thrilling to look at.

You had BBC Sports activities Persona of the Yr sewn up till the US Open. As a former teenage sports activities star, what’s your message for Emma Raducanu as she begins her life within the highlight? (Allan, UK)
Keep true to who you’re and maintain working laborious. Don’t get distracted by something and maintain striving in direction of your objectives.

What are your views on the sexualisation of athletes in sport, having been pushed as a poster boy and never carrying very a lot? (Milly, UK)
You’ve gotten these physique points as an athlete. A lot of individuals would take a look at athletes and be like: “What are you speaking about? You’re an athlete, you’re in form, you don’t have anything to fret about.” However particularly as a diver, you’re up on the diving board and also you’re so bare, so seen, so it’s fairly laborious to be content material together with your physique, since you all the time wish to be higher.

You wrote about this in your guide. Is it honest to say you developed an consuming dysfunction? Would you name it that? (Emine Saner)
I used to make myself throw up, in 2012. I weigh myself day by day. I’ve had a really unusual relationship with meals and my physique picture. I assume it’s a gentle type of that. Males all the time appear to not have consuming issues, and it’s laborious to speak about it. However I’d contemplate myself to be somebody that has very a lot struggled with physique picture, and consuming, and feeling responsible and shameful of the issues that I eat.

You additionally wrote that a number of the journal shoots you did whenever you had been younger maybe wouldn’t be acceptable now. (ES)
I don’t know if there can be shoots of perhaps 14-, 15-, 16-year-old boys of their trunks, with water thrown throughout them, now. I do know there undoubtedly wouldn’t be women doing that. It’s laborious to say what’s proper and what’s improper. Wanting again, it made me really feel extra mature; I by no means felt taken benefit of in any manner. I don’t suppose the physique picture points come from something to do with the media. My physique picture [issues] got here from inside my sport – it was hammered into me that I used to be chubby and wanted to drop a few pounds so as to carry out.

Matthew Mitcham, the retired Olympic champion diver and friend of Tom Daley
Supply of inspiration … the Australian diver Matthew Mitcham, a buddy of Daley, was the primary overtly homosexual individual to win an Olympic gold medal. {Photograph}: Jane Dempster/AAP

You’ve gotten talked concerning the significance to younger individuals of getting LGBTQ+ sporting position fashions. What impact did it have on you when the Australian diver Matthew Mitcham got here out in 2008, earlier than profitable gold in Beijing? (Kathryn, UK)
He’s been a large supply of inspiration – he was the primary overtly homosexual man to win an Olympic gold medal. He lives in London and we hang around very often. With the ability to have position fashions is so essential; seeing somebody such as you do nicely does assist encourage you and make you suppose: “I can do this, too.”

What was life like earlier than and after popping out? (Ian, Singapore)
I had to determine my sexuality very a lot within the public eye. For me, popping out lifted a weight off my shoulders. It eats you up inside whenever you’re attempting to be somebody you’re not, or not even attempting to be somebody you’re not, however not essentially being trustworthy. It was terrifying, however on the identical time it was like: now I not have to cover. It was very a lot eager to take management of the state of affairs.

You and Lance are vocal about LGBT rights within the UK, the US and the Commonwealth. In case you may carry one difficulty earlier than any politician of your selection, what wouldn’t it be? (Dorothea, Germany)
When it comes to sport, I feel no nation ought to be capable of host any sort of worldwide occasion except they’ve equal rights for LGBT individuals, for ladies, for individuals of color. There needs to be a typical, the place anybody that desires to go there’s going to be protected, supported and never really feel threatened for his or her life. The 2022 soccer World Cup is in Qatar – for ladies and queer individuals, that may be a harmful place. After I got here out, I didn’t go to Russia [which has homophobic laws] to compete, as a result of I used to be frightened, after which [for the next competition there] I used to be like: “You recognize what? I wish to go, to be seen.” That, I feel, is extra highly effective than not going in any respect. As an athlete, I’m in a safer place, however for individuals simply dwelling their lives in lots of nations, it’s a scary place to be.

Tom Daley, Lance Black and their son, Robbie
‘Lance may be very a lot the large child in the home’ … Daley with Black and their son, Robbie. {Photograph}: @tomdaley/Instagram

How did you meet Lance? (Stefanos, Germany)
At dinner in Los Angeles, in March 2013. Our mutual buddy introduced some associates, of which Lance was one. In that first week, we stated we cherished one another and we named our youngsters. And right here we’re, 4 years married and with a three-year-old son.

Do you generally really feel the 20-year age hole between you? (Evgeniya, Russia)
By no means. If something, Lance may be very a lot the large child in the home. I contemplate myself to be an older soul, therefore I’ve almost 200 houseplants, and I knit, and I like to have the ability to have conversations with individuals who have skilled an analogous quantity as I’ve. That’s the place Lance and I linked rather a lot – he had misplaced his brother, I’d misplaced my dad, after which he misplaced his mum. We’d additionally skilled the highs of a profession [Black won an Oscar in 2009 for his screenplay for Milk] and having that comedown afterwards. That was one thing we actually had been in a position to join on.

Do you may have any plans for brand new additions to the household? (Cindy, Myanmar)
It’s not fairly as straightforward as a bottle of wine and time. A whole lot of thought has to enter it, however completely, I’d love extra children.

How tough was it so that you can stay centered on diving throughout your dad’s sickness and loss of life? [Daley’s father, Robert, died in 2011 from a brain tumour.] (Cliff, Mexico)
I didn’t enable myself to imagine that it was happening, and diving was my outlet to flee from all of it. Even after my dad died, I used to be very a lot “diving, diving, diving”. It wasn’t till I met Lance and he stated: “You might want to take care of this, you’ll be able to’t simply keep on and faux that nothing’s occurred.” Now I’m in a position to share recollections, do a number of the issues we used to do collectively, relatively than be like: “I can’t do that, it makes me too unhappy.” It was extraordinarily robust on the time, all very public, and I felt like I needed to be robust for my household. All people grieves in another way, however I undoubtedly had a delayed grief second.

I used to be so moved to learn in your guide that your dad’s ashes are buried by the diving board on the London Aquatic Centre. (ES)
It was a type of issues that solely I knew throughout London 2012. That’s why I put my water bottle there; I nonetheless put my bottle there each time I prepare. He obtained one of the best seat in the home – no dad and mom are allowed poolside throughout diving competitions, not to mention the Olympics. It was very particular to me that I received my first Olympic medal in that pool.

Tom Daley in Plymouth, his home town, with his father, Robert, in 2008
‘I undoubtedly had a delayed grief second’ … Tom Daley in Plymouth, his residence city, together with his father, Robert, in 2008. {Photograph}: Darren Jack/Shutterstock

The diving services at my native pool closed and a brand new leisure centre was constructed with out one. There may be no probability that my kids will take up diving. What might be performed to make diving accessible to the following technology of Olympians? (Richard, UK)
There are extra 10-metre diving services than ever earlier than within the UK, however a number of smaller services are being closed. I began the Tom Daley Diving Academy, which is now throughout swimming pools with out diving boards, educating individuals the fundamentals off the facet. You may get a really feel for diving after which if somebody is nice and is talent-scouted, they’ll transfer to diving swimming pools. I’d prefer to see extra leisure centres which have, not even 10-metre services, however when you can have 1-metre, 3-metre and 5-metre boards, that’s nice for novices.

How did you retain up coaching throughout lockdown? (Sarah, UK)
I used to be doing somersaults on to couch cushions. I had a spin bike, a treadmill; I’d often go for runs, do Zoom exercises. I ordered issues to be delivered, like weights, however they took for ever as a result of everyone wished them. It allowed me to give attention to issues I by no means would normally, like time to stretch and all these issues that actually assist.

How usually do you and Matty Lee converse? And have both of you selected 2024? (Curtis, US)
Matty is definitely dwelling in my home [in London] whereas I’m in Calgary [where Black is making a TV show]. He was meant to be out by the point I get again, however I’m going to be dwelling with him for a month. We converse on a regular basis. A person gold would have been wonderful, however there’s nearly one thing extra particular concerning the synchro, since you get to share that second with somebody.

No choices have been made about 2024. If I’d received a gold medal in 2016, I deliberate to retire, as a result of I didn’t suppose, as an older athlete, I used to be ever going to be nearly as good. I’m nonetheless very a lot on an upward trajectory.

What obtained you into knitting? (Matilda, UK)
My coach all the time wished me to sit down down, relaxation, get well. As a result of I’m a type of individuals all the time up doing one thing, Lance stated some individuals on [TV sets], whereas they’re ready between takes, will knit. I used to be horrible at it, obtained a bit of information from YouTube and a few divers on the worldwide scene helped me, after which abruptly I used to be obsessive about it. Each new challenge was a brand new approach to study. It’s what I do each time I’ve a second. I was a large nail biter and now I don’t chunk my nails, as a result of that fidgeting is gone.

Tom Daley with one of his knits at a Tokyo 2020 diving event
Man of many skills … Daley with one among his knits at a Tokyo 2020 diving occasion. {Photograph}: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Photos

In case you needed to give an athlete one among your knits, what wouldn’t it be? (Lauriane, France)
Possibly I’ll knit Usain Bolt a full working leotard – inexperienced, gold and black. It is perhaps a bit heavy, although.

Will you be competing in subsequent 12 months’s Commonwealth Video games in Birmingham? (Roseanne, UK)
I wish to take an extended break and I feel, by the point I get again to coaching, I’ll have missed the qualification occasion. Until our director says: “We all know you are able to do it, so that you’re certified already,” however, in any other case, in all probability not.

Which different Olympic sports activities would you most and least prefer to compete in? (Susan, UK)
One thing I’d have already got some potential in can be gymnastics, however I’d like to do luge or skeleton, or bobsleigh. Least interesting? Swimming. Watching it’s superb, however the coaching – swimming up and down, a black line on the underside of the pool – is just not interesting to me.

Do you propose to show your knitting pastime right into a enterprise? (Netasha, Malaysia)
I’d like to work out a manner of getting extra individuals into knitting, only for the mindfulness ingredient – and to have the ability to make your individual garments can be higher than all of the quick trend.

The place do you see your self in 5 years? (Alexandra, Canada)
I’d like to have a profitable knitwear enterprise and be established as a TV host. And perhaps with extra kids.

Within the UK, the consuming dysfunction charity Beat might be contacted on 0808 801 0677. Within the US, the Nationwide Consuming Problems Affiliation is on 800-931-2237. In Australia, the Butterfly Basis is on 1800 33 4673. Different worldwide helplines might be discovered at Consuming Dysfunction Hope

Coming Up for Air by Tom Daley is revealed on 14 October (HQ, £20) in hardback, book and audiobook. To help the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply expenses might apply

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