Tom Daley admitted last night that this year has been the toughest so far in his still short but glittering career and that his quest to perfect dives good enough to win gold at the 2012 London Olympics may prevent succes here at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.
The 16-year-old from Plymouth, who followed up a very creditable 7th place in the Olympic 10 metres platfom final in Beijing in 2008 with a world title last year in the same discipline will go head to head with the Australian Olympic champion Matt Mitcham on Wednesday at the Dr SJ Mukherjee Aquatics Complex in central Delhi in what is a rare contest at these blighted Commonwealth Games involving two of the very best exponents in their chosen sport in the world.
The Olympic gold medallist, however, looks to be favourite to beat the world gold medallist after Daley's admission yesterday that a combination of injuries and experimentation with new dives have lessened his chances of adding a Commonwealth title to his shock world title won last year in Rome.
The Plymouth schoolboy, who also partners Max Brick in the 10m Platfrom Synchro on Tuesday, has endured a triceps injury which he insists has improved immeasurably, but it meant a disappointing 9th place in August's Youth Olympics in Singapore in August and withdrawals from the British senior championships, the European Championships and the World Juniors.
"This has been my toughest year because I've had to deal with injuries I've never had before and, on top of this, I've had to learn new dives which haven't gone so well in competition because the preparation's not been so good," Daley explained, as he sat in the athlete's village in Delhi.
"I always knew it would be a rough year and it would be about learning a great deal. There have been a lot of positives. The dives I've been just missing have been new dives which isn't such a shock and having injuries have made me realise how much I want to dive and how, when I"m fully fit, I'll make the most of it."
Daley revealed that he will attempt two of the four, new dives he plans for London which, he says, will make his Olympic programme the "hardest programme in the world."
He said: "I've learnt four new dives, two of which I'll perform here in Delhi. It takes two years to be comfortable enough with a new dive to be able to perform it well in competition so it's important to learn all about my new dives in order to be comfortable with them by the London Olympics."
Daley credits his Australian rival, Mitcham, with providing him with the confidence to go on and beat the world. The 22-year-old, who is one of a very few openly gay athletes at these Commonwealth Games, managed to break the Chinese global dominance of diving wth his last, dramatic dive that snatched gold at the Beijing Games.
"China had won every medal at the Olympics but once you see someone like Matt beat the Chinese and come out on top it gives you great confidence," Daley explained. "It made me ask why I couldn't achieve the same. Seeing Matt win gold in Beijing, of all places, made me go home, train even harder and end up becoming world champion last year."
Alexei Evangulov, England's head diving coach, sees Wednesday's clash as an important learning curve for his young protege. "Tom has the same ability as Mitcham," insisted Evangulov. "He always observes his main opponents and they become targets Tom has to beat. Mitch will be hard to beat in Delhi although, psychologically it would be good to do so, but Tom is always full of surprises.
"Last year he became worldchampion with a series of dives that had the weakest degree of difficulty in the world. It was a huge surprise to all diving experts. Becoming world champion could have ended Tom's career because it happened to him at such a young age and he suddenly became a celebrity.
"I didn't expect Tom to be so comfotable, confident and cool under pressure. I expected many problems but Tom's absolutely fine. He is always optimistic and never upset, even when something goes wrong in training. We hadn't planned for his injury and we had to stop him from competing when he wanted to."
Thankfully the boy wonder is fit for the Commonwealth Games, although do not necessarily expect a golden week. As far as Tom Daley is concerned experimentation in Delhi should lead to gold in London.