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Page last updated at 18:52 GMT, Sunday, 19 July 2009 19:52 UK

Daley deals with growing pains

Date: 17 July - 2 August Venue: Foro Italico, Rome
Coverage: Tues 21, 1700-1830 BST: Daley (10m individual) live, red button/online. Sat 25, 12.00-13.30: Daley and Brick (10m synchro) live, BBC2/online

Tom Daley
Daley heads to Rome as a medal contender in the World Championships

By Caroline Cheese

For most 15-year-old boys, adding six inches in height is one of the plus sides of the growing-up process.

For a 15-year-old like Tom Daley, who also happens to be one of the world's best divers, it could be enough to derail your career.

As former Olympic silver medallist Leon Taylor puts it: "Diving is so technical that if you suddenly find your arms are a bit longer or whatever, it can throw you completely out of whack."

But not even the unstoppable forces of nature have succeeded in halting the rise of Daley.

The schoolboy from Plymouth shot to fame in 2008 when he became Britain's second youngest male Olympian.

What's he's doing very well is max-ing out on what he has got

Daley's mentor Leon Taylor

He finished a creditable seventh in the 10m platform final, with Australian Matt Mitcham taking gold ahead of China's Zhou Luxin and Russia's world champion Gleb Galperin.

Since then, he has beaten both Mitcham and Zhou, the latter at a prestigious Grand Prix event in Florida which he won on his open-air competitive debut.

He had already tasted victory over bronze medallist Galperin when he became the youngest ever European champion at the age of 13.

Not surprisingly then, Rob Daley declared his son is "full of beans" ahead of the World Championships in Rome, which begin with qualifying for the 10m platform on Monday.

"Like everyone, he wants to come back with a medal," he said.

"He's full of confidence. He knows he's the youngest there. He's not really the one with the pressure on him."

Daley still lags behind the competition in one area: he does not yet have the more complicated dives in his repertoire.

Matt Mitcham (Australia)
Luxin Zhou and Qiu Bo (China)
Gleb Galperin (Russia)
Jose Antonio Guerra (Cuba)
Rommel Pacheco (Mexico)
David Boudia (US)

Put simply, that means that if Daley makes even the slightest mistake on one of his dives, he could slide out of contention, while his more experienced rivals have more margin for error.

But that did not stop him in Florida, when he scored a perfect set of 10s on one dive to finish on 554.90 points, his best ever score.

"What's he's doing very well is max-ing out on what he has got," explained Taylor, who is also acting as a mentor to Daley.

"He's literally perfecting each dive in his repertoire and matching up against the big boys, even though they have a slightly higher degree of difficulty."

Daley's performance in Florida was all the more remarkable given that he had suffered bullying at school in the lead-up.

On his return in May, he moved to a public school which is better able to cater for the needs of a world-class athlete, and his father says he has already noticed a difference.

"He's got his sparkle back. He's coming home from school smiling and joking again like he used to," he said.

My phone rings every 10 or 12 minutes, people from all around the world

Daley's dad Rob

Daley will team up with 18-year-old Max Brick in the synchronised event in Rome after ending his eventful partnership with Blake Aldridge.

Aldridge, criticised by his young partner for phoning his mum during the competition, publicly blamed Daley's nerves for their eighth place in Beijing, and then was unable to compete in this year's national championships after being assaulted in a nightclub.

Daley's father moved quickly to shield Tom from any negative publicity, but despite Olympics fever having died down, interest in the diving prodigy remains high.

"My phone rings every 10 or 12 minutes, people from all around the world," said Daley senior.

"The fan mail he gets is incredible, every day, but he answers every one. He's got autograph cards already made up and he'll put a signature on them, write who it's to, and then send them off.

"The bulk of the letters are from China and Hong Kong where diving is a big story - and I think there were a few young ladies who took a liking to him when he was in Beijing."

Daley is a boy in demand. Since Beijing, he has presented a Bafta, attended the film premiere of Madagascar II and taken part in a dolphin show at Florida's SeaWorld.

One thing remains on the agenda though.

"He hasn't been to Britain's Got Talent or X-Factor and he'd love that!" said his father.

"He's always onto me 'Dad, Dad, can we go? I really wanna go' That's his 15-year-old side coming out..."

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see also
Daley prepares for Worlds debut
17 Jul 09 |  Swimming
Teen Daley earns GB diving place
07 Jul 09 |  Diving
Dive star moves to public school
02 Jun 09 |  Devon
Brilliant Daley wins Florida gold
10 May 09 |  Diving
Olympic champion hails GB's Daley
16 Apr 09 |  Swimming
Daley's new diving partner named
07 Apr 09 |  Swimming
Daley seventh as Mitcham triumphs
23 Aug 08 |  Diving
Swimming & Diving on the BBC
29 Jun 11 |  Swimming
Swimming calendar
17 Oct 00 |  Swimming

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