Tom Daley Reveals How Close COVID Came To Killing Olympic Wins

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Tom Daley, who made history when he came out in 2013, and who with Matty Lee, won the 2020 Olympic gold medal in the Men’s synchronized 10 m platform diving event this past summer in Tokyo nearly didn’t make it when he was waylaid by COVID.


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According to the Times U.K.: Seven months before his triumph in Tokyo, Tom Daley was rushed to hospital with Covid. The gold medallist reveals for the first time what happened – and why he didn’t want his rivals to find out. “My lungs felt pressurised, as if they had sacks of rice around them…I was terrified.”

Tom Daley’s gold medal: the 556g, 85mm disc, is an impressive and hard-won trinket, a medal the diver had spent 20 years and four Olympic Games chasing. He finally clinched it in the small hours of July 26, with his partner in the men’s 10m synchronised platform diving event, Matty Lee. There were tears, not least from Daley himself, having leapt, gleeful and soaking, into Lee’s arms before they took their place on the podium.

But, What I’m really here to see is Daley’s pouch. Which he also calls his “cosy” – the little woollen home he fashioned for his long-anticipated medal, featuring the Union Jack on one side and the Japanese flag on the other. “I was just carrying it around, banging it against things, so I thought, ‘I’m going to make a medal cosy – a pouch to carry it around in to stop it getting scratched.’ ”

The image of the 27-year-old, mask on, casting off, tweeted by Team GB with the caption, “Nothing to see here – just @TomDaley1994 having a knit at the diving,” went viral. “I literally woke up one morning and I’d become a meme,” he grins. Daley’s forward four-and-a-half somersault may have won him the gold, but his purl stitch won him the internet.

Daley took up his needles during lockdown. “I’m a fidgeter. If I’m not doing anything and there’s a cupboard that needs sorting out, I will do that,” he says. “My coach wanted me to find something to chill out with and stop me overthinking, and Lance [his husband of five years, the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black] suggested it, as people on film sets often knit squares.”

When Daley speaks of the pandemic and its impact, he isn’t just talking about the closure of pools, which meant he could not dive for months, or the separation from friends and family, or even the postponement of the Games he had been toiling towards for four years. He was hospitalised with coronavirus seven months before winning gold.


In January this year he began to suffer headaches and dizziness, which, initially, he put down to a mild concussion he’d sustained in training on New Year’s Eve. Then the fever took hold, veering from racking chills and chattering teeth to burning heat. He ached, felt faint, couldn’t speak more than two words and Black had to help him walk down the stairs. Terrified, he checked that his husband knew what to do if he stopped breathing. But several lateral flow tests proved negative. The next morning, he shuffled the mile and a half to the nearest centre for a PCR test, which proved positive. Black then developed symptoms too, just as Daley’s worsened. A paramedic was dispatched and decided, given Daley’s history with pneumonia, he should be hospitalised. Chest X-rays revealed blotches on his lungs, he was given oxygen and monitored for ten hours before being sent home.

He has not spoken about contracting Covid until now. “You can’t let your competitors think that they’ve got one up on you. I wanted them to think that I was training as hard as them,” he says. Though, in reality, it took months before he could train again in earnest. “I spent the first three months of this year not diving, only using the power of visualisation – just imagining myself doing the dives day in, day out.”


There is, he thinks, a lingering 5 per cent reduction in his cardiovascular fitness. “I would consider myself to be quite a healthy person, but Covid doesn’t discriminate at all.”

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