Plymouth: A poster boy for the London 2012 Olympics and one of Britain's biggest medal hopes this summer, Tom Daley is not your average 18-year-old.

World titles, photo shoots and an autobiography... and it is unlikely any other teenager had supermodel Kate Moss feature in his GCSE photography coursework.

Yet meeting him at school in south-west England, you would hardly pick him from a crowd, so unassuming is the diver. In school uniform with work folder in hand, the only giveaway that Daley is a world class athlete is the European Championships gold medal weighing down his blazer pocket.

He is particularly proud of this latest gong, and having also clinched the World Series gold in Mexico in recent months, Daley has hit top form just at the right time with the Olympics looming into sight.

"The Olympic title is the only title I am yet to win, and it's just so exciting that it's coming up and it's getting so close and it's scary to think it's just down to six dives," Daley said.

"If you do those six dives really well then you could be up on the podium. If you do those six dives not so well then you can be right down at the bottom.

"Diving is such an on-the-day sport, so nobody knows what the result is going to be until it's happened."

Earlier this year he was criticised by British diving performance director Alexei Evangulov who said Daley's many media and sponsorship commitments were preventing him from fulfilling his potential.

Daley, along with his 10-metre synchronised partner Peter Waterfield, finished seventh at the World Cup in April.


However, recent form has seen Evangulov change his opinion and the performance director now thinks Daley can challenge for the gold medal.

Daley, who trains for five hours a day, attributes regular competition and hard work for his improved form.

"I think at the beginning of the year, at the World Cup I didn't dive so great," Daley said. "It was in the synchronised competition. It was our first competition for eight months so you're always a bit rusty.

"But since then I've been working really hard in the pool and outside of the pool too, making sure I'm doing everything I possibly can do to put me in the best position going into a competition."

Evangulov now believes Daley can break the stranglehold China have on the world of diving. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China won seven of the eight gold medals available and at this year's World Cup they had a clean sweep.

Qiu Bo and Lin Yue are China's main two divers in the 10m platform and Daley is only too aware of the threat they pose.

"The Chinese are very machine-like, they're the top diving nation," he said. "Those are the divers you really want to try to beat in the competition, because normally if a Chinese person doesn't win gold then it's a massive shock.

"At the moment it's theirs to throw away but they don't like pressure so if you pile pressure on, you'll never know what might happen."

This will be Daley's second Olympics having competed in Beijing four years ago and he feels the experience gained there will help him now challenge for a medal.

"I was very young," he said. "It was my first Olympic Games it was more about going there for experience and kind of seeing what the deal was, how big the competition was.


"Whereas this competition is very important for me; it's in my home country and it's something you're never going to get that opportunity again to compete in front of a home crowd."

As well as his sporting accomplishments, Daley also enjoys academic success, achieving top grades in his exams, a success Daley attributes to the support from his school, Plymouth College, which has three other students who will be swimming at London 2012.

Jade Howard will compete for Zambia, Ruta Meilutyte will represent Lithuania and Jamila Lunkuse will swim for Uganda.

"Everyone understands that sport is a big deal at this school... and everyone understands the amount of effort that has to be put in.

School headmaster Simon Wormleighton said Daley is not just a perfect student, he is a normal one too. "He's been absolutely fantastic, he settled in here really, really well and on a normal day he's just a Plymouth College pupil... you know, one of the crowd, which is just how it needs to be.

"But then you see him on the world stage the next day and he's this very impressive young man and speaks highly of the school and the opportunities he is given here."

Daley credits his sunny and grounded outlook, and how he handles the pressure, to the people around him.

"Friends, family and the support system... it's very important because you need to make sure you're enjoying your social life, your media life, your training life and things like that, to actually get the best possible performance," he said.

And for Daley, who lost his father to cancer a year ago, he says he would not be able to cope with his hectic schedule if it were not for his mother.

"My mum has been absolutely fantastic with how supportive she has been of me," he said. "She organises my dates, the diary. She organises everything and I think without her it would be very difficult to actually try and function with going to training and when I've got to do certain things."

There is though one thing the youngster is looking forward to beyond the Olympics, and that is getting his 18th birthday present from his mum.

Debbie Daley has promised she will pay for Tom to get an Olympic tattoo.

"It's quite a cool thing for an 18th birthday present so I'm quite looking forward to actually getting that, but I think it will be after the Olympic Games because you have to stay out of the water for four days I think," he said with a smile on his face.

He has been called Mr Perfect, but all Daley really wants is to perform the perfect dive this summer and achieve his dream to be an Olympic champion. Then that smile will never leave his face.


Latest News from Sports News Desk