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Last Updated: Monday, 25 February 2008, 12:45 GMT
GB ready for teenage Olympian

By Ollie Williams

Tom Daley competes at the FINA diving World Cup
Daley is set to become GB's second youngest male Olympian of all time
The Olympic organisers behind Team GB say they can cope with the prospect of taking young talents like Tom Daley to compete in Beijing.

Diving prodigy Daley, 13, has now qualified for this summer's Olympics, and will be 14 when the games begin - something he describes as a "phenomenal" opportunity.

But for the British Olympic Association (BOA), Daley's qualification also presents new challenges.

Britain's youngest competitors at the last two Olympics - Amir Khan in 2004 and Sarah Stevenson in 2000 - were both 17.

It falls to the BOA, which puts together Team GB, to protect and prepare every British athlete.

But Daley's age will add different demands to an already pressured environment.

Louisa Huddy from the BOA says the organisation has no fear of taking competitors as young as Daley to the Olympics.

Tom's got some maths homework to do in Beijing

Rob Daley, father of Tom Daley
"We have taken teams to Youth Olympic festivals since 1995 and we have a robust child protection policy," says Huddy.

"Athletes under the age of 18 have at least one female and one male member of support staff within their team, and we take into consideration the age of athletes when assigning accommodation.

"And in Beijing, a member of our team will be assigned as a designated child protection officer."

Most young athletes with a chance of making the Olympics will already have endured testing times away from home before the Games get under way this August.

Daley has already spent time in Beijing. He earned his berth at the Olympics by finishing seventh at the Fina diving World Cup in the Chinese capital.

Marjorie Gestring
Marjorie Gestring won individual Olympic gold aged 13
His father Rob flew out to watch his son in action - and is confident Daley junior is able to cope with the demands of his sport.

"We speak or text on a daily basis and he's fine," father Rob told BBC Sport.

"He's on form and training is going well.

"His feet are still on the ground - he knows he's got a job to do and he just wants to go for it."

Young Tom even has to keep on top of his studies while he competes against adults twice his age.

"He's got work to do in Beijing," said his father before the World Cup. "But one of the other divers on the team is a teacher so she can help him!

"He's got some maths and some other subjects, but academically he is very switched on, and he is fully aware he has got to be educated.

"We encourage him to do his homework rather than telling him, and he'll always do it."

Sports like gymnastics should not be there for kids

Bruno Grandi, FIG president
Youngsters have been causing a stir at the modern Olympics since they began in 1896.

It is believed an anonymous boy, no more than nine years old, coxed a Dutch rowing crew to victory at the Paris Games of 1900.

In 1936 American Marjorie Gestring, aged 13 years and 268 days, became the Olympics' youngest individual gold medallist when she won the 3m springboard diving event in Berlin - a record which still stands.

And more recently Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci stunned the 1976 Montreal Games with a perfect 10.0 score on the uneven bars, aged 14.

But some people believe it is not healthy for children to compete at the Olympics.

Bruno Grandi, the president of gymnastics world governing body FIG, is one of them.

Nadia Comaneci
Nadia Comaneci sets her perfect 10, aged 14
Grandi recently told Chinese news agency Xinhua he did not agree with young gymnasts like Comaneci performing on the world stage.

"Sports like gymnastics should not be there for kids," said Grandi.

"Gymnasts should only be allowed to compete on the international stage when they are mature physically and mentally."

Grandi's organisation is now considering changing the gymnastics age limit for the second time since 1996.

Currently gymnasts must be aged 16 by the end of the calendar year in which a major event takes place.

This means younger gymnasts can still compete at smaller international events, but the FIG proposes a new limit of 16 for all international competitions.

Comaneci would have been unable to take part in the Olympics had current regulations applied in 1976.

Daley, on the other hand, has squeezed past the diving age limit for Beijing. Currently divers must be 14 by the end of an Olympic year in order to take part.

David Richards, from British Swimming - the organisation which oversees competitive diving in the UK - disagrees with Grandi.

Richards believes athletes should be given all the backing they need to succeed in their prime, whenever that may be.

"Athletes in any sport have a certain shelf life and diving is quite a peculiar sport," he says.

"For example, Tom Daley might grow to six and a half feet over the next six, 12 or 18 months. That and diving might not go hand in hand.

"Tom has been assessed on the possible height he'd mature to but nothing is a given, there is no exact science."

Other sports have age limits too - fencing's is 13 years (although in practice competitors are unlikely to be this young), and equestrian sports expect athletes to be aged 18 or over unless they are an "exceptional case".

But the diving age limit is among the lowest, and Daley is on its edge.

Should he take the place he has earned at the Olympics, it may be a long time before we see a younger British athlete qualify.

Tom Daley is one of the athletes BBC Sport is following as part of the Olympics Dreams series and you can read regular updates at

GB divers beat Olympic champions
04 Jan 08 |  Swimming
Diving's battle of the ages
02 Jan 08 |  Swimming
Olympic Dreams - Tom Daley
03 Oct 07 |  London 2012


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