How Tom Daley provided Team GB’s feel-good moment in Tokyo - and proved the old guard are not done yet
Daley was one of the athletes who were being written off by some as using Tokyo for their swansong, but along with the likes of Laura Kenny and Max Whitlock, it seems the Olympic journey is likely to continue on to Paris 2024, where more records can be broken. The stalwarts proved they are far from finished during a brilliant summer Games.
'Take a bow!' - Daley and Lee 'nail it' with final dive to win gold
In the lead up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it felt like Team GB was about to go through a changing of the guard. Speaking to a number of athletes, the year-long delay because of Covid had taken its toll.
The pandemic has been rough for almost everyone and what people have gone through is of course all relative to the individual. From an Olympic point of view, athletes essentially did their peak training twice in the space of one year - the Games were only postponed four months before they were due to take place, tapering was not far away.
The mood, from some of the more seasoned campaigners, was that it was too difficult to look ahead to Paris 2024 before Tokyo had even happened. Could they really go through that most intense period of training again, for a third time in five years? They were not battle hardened - they were shattered.
The question, then, was whether the likes of Tom Daley, Jason Kenny, Laura Kenny, Jade Jones, Andy Murray and Max Whitlock could all be facing the final Games of their career. Instead, most have had a new lease of life.
Daley arguably provided the feel-good moment(s) of the Games for Team GB. Millennials have essentially grown up with the diving star, ever since he made his big breakthrough at Beijing 2008. Across London 2012 and Rio 2016, he came away with bronze medals - but his peers - and especially China’s Cao Yuan - have always stood in his way.
Tokyo 2020 - 'I can't believe it' - Tom Daley on his second Olympic medal at Tokyo 2020
Before he even competed in Tokyo, he was the centre of attention, in a good way. Daley was chief cheerleader before his own events at the pool, but kept himself busy with his extremely impressive knitting of a Team GB cardigan. “I think people think I represent team Great Knitting,” he said after the Games.
On the 10m platform, the most daunting and unnatural height, Daley and his synchro partner Matty Lee produced the performance of their lives to win gold, beating Yuan and his team-mate Chén Aisen to finally become an Olympic champion with some stunning diving. We have seen tears from Daley before - but these were for all the happiest of reasons. Over the years, through his professionalism and equal rights campaigning for the LGBTQ+ community, the British public has taken him to their hearts - and this felt like a special moment. He returned to the diving pool to win a second career 10m individual platform bronze - Yuan again taking gold.
Daley is intrigued by the possibility of mixed and team synchronised events possibly being included in the Paris schedule. The International Olympic Committee is trying to bring more of these in across the programmes - and he teased he may “stick around” for 2024.
'Two amazing athletes' - GB's Kenny and Archibald celebrate madison gold
On the cycling track, more long term doubts surrounded Jason Kenny than Laura Kenny. He had retired once already, after all, without telling anyone. The standard individual and team sprint events seemed to be beyond him, as the Dutch riders and Harrie Lavreysen in particular have moved into another league. But in the keirin, a tactical, experienced mind is key - and Kenny produced the most incredible early dash to prove that there is plenty of life in his legs yet by claiming gold. Afterwards, he did not rule out continuing on.
Laura will surely be in Paris. She now has six medals in total and five of them are gold, following her Madison success with Katie Archibald. All-time records are in sight and she looks far from done at 29 - there may even be two more Games in her.
'Yes!' - Whitlock's 'beautiful' routine on pommel horse earns GB star gold
Max Whitlock has already said he wants to go to Los Angeles 2028 - which would be astonishing for what would be a 35-year-old gymnast, far older than the shelf-life of most in his sport. But after a shaky European Championships earlier in the year, he completely dominated the pommel horse competition in Tokyo to take gold.
Andy Murray used the Olympics as building blocks towards his best fitness since his hip was resurfaced in 2019. Yes, he had to pull out of the singles to focus on the doubles, but it was a big positive that he was able to perform admirably with Joe Salisbury, before they crashed out in the quarter-finals. But the former world number one adores playing for Team GB at the Olympics - the scene of some of his most memorable triumphs. If, as he wishes, he does have more years in the bank, Paris could be the ideal place to retire on his own terms.
Jones suffers shock defeat, Walkden left in tears
Things did not go to plan for all of the more experienced campaigners. Mo Farah did not even qualify for the Games and would have watched a 10,000m final which was absolutely made for him to add another gold, even with his 2021 form - it would be a huge shock if he is in Paris. But Jade Jones will surely want to set things right, after the double Olympic taekwondo champion’s shock early defeat in Tokyo.
New Team GB heroes were found at the Games, with the likes of BMX’s Bethany Schriver, triathlon pair Alex Yee and Georgia Taylor-Brown and boxing’s Lauren Price. Others, like Adam Peaty and Charlotte Dujardin, continue to build their legacy. There have also been goodbyes to sailing’s Hannah Mills and Giles Scott.
The likes of Daley, the Kennys and Whitlock should all be able to bow out from the Olympic stage having performed in at least one more Games in front of packed crowds - in what comes as close to a home Games without being on these British Isles. Let us hope that will be the case in 2024.