Tom Daley has opened up about undergoing surgery weeks before the Olympics after an injury left him unable to walk.
The British diving champion has been striving for an Olympic gold medal since the age of 14 and knew his performance in Tokyo this year was likely to be his last chance.
He and his diving partner Matty Lee finally achieved their dream with their stunning win in the men’s synchronised 10 metres platform – and when the moment came, it was overwhelming.
“I never thought I’d feel emotion the way that I felt it. I always dreamed about singing the national anthem at the top of my lungs and I literally couldn’t even speak,” he told the BBC.
“Although it was me and Matty up on the podium, there are a lot of people behind that medal, and just everything came to that moment of pure elation at having done it after 20 years of training.”
His Tokyo victory was put in jeopardy just weeks before the games.
“My knee started clicking really badly and clunking but there was no pain, and I thought ‘well this is really weird’ and that had been for about a year,” he recalled.
“I was actually doing a meditation and when I stood up, my knee kind of clicked – that felt different. I tried to carry on training. I woke up the next day and I couldn’t walk. My knee was locked into position.”
Doctors discovered cartilage in his knee had torn, flipped up and got stuck in the joint, locking it into position.
He was forced to undergo surgery and was warned recovery could take up to six weeks. At this point, the synchronised event was just eight weeks away.
“I didn’t have a choice. I had to get my knee fixed, because if I didn’t, I wasn’t going to be able to dive at all,” he said.
Fortunately, Daley made a speedy recovery and took gold at the event.
Tom Daley knows he did his dad proud
The moment was all the more poignant given that Tom Daley’s biggest supporter – his father, Rob – wasn’t around to see it.
“He never, ever got to see me win any of my Olympic medals,” Daley regrets. He died of a brain tumour aged 40, just a few days after his son’s 17th birthday.
A decade has passed and Daley is now a father himself, but when that medal was hung around his neck his dad was still at the front of his mind.
“I know he would have done something crazy,” he said. “He would have fallen down off the balcony, he would probably have jumped in the pool. He would have been the streaker of the Olympics; I just know he would have done something silly.
“It just makes me extremely proud to think that all the hard work and sacrifice that he put into my diving career is, I’d say, worth it.”