Olympics20 – quick stats – article
It was one of the most unusual athlete requests of this or any other Olympics. Tom Daley had arrived for the start of the 10m platform diving event and, in his kit bag already, were some knitting needles and the start of what he called a “dog jumper” that he is trying to complete for a friend while in Japan.
One of the local officials had a different idea. They had brought a stuffed toy penguin along to the diving pool and made a beeline for Daley: “Wouldn’t it be cute to have a little scarf for it?”
How most elite athletes might react to such a request just moments before they were due to compete at an Olympics Games is probably unprintable. But Daley is not most elite athletes.
And so, a day after he had revealed the knitted Tokyo cardigan that has been his main distraction since winning gold 11 days earlier, he spent most of a three-hour qualifying marathon producing a green and pink scarf.
It went knit. Dive. Knit. Dive. Knit. Dive. Knit. Dive. Kint. Dive. Knit. Dive. And, with his place in the semi-finals duly secured as the fourth best qualifier, Daley placed the scarf on the toy penguin and made his way back to the athlete’s village.
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Leaving the venue, though, was a more challenging task than it might sound. Aside from a handful of English speaking journalists, there were numerous Japanese media and, while the Tokyo volunteers remained highly restrained, you could just feel their desire to get near him. No-one. Not Caeleb Dressel, Adam Peaty, Katie Ledecky, Kaylee McKeon or Ariarne Titmus has been greeted with anything like such reverence at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre over the past fortnight. Daley’s Tokyo cardigan has evidently captured the imagination of an audience far beyond the United Kingdom.
Following his gold medal in the men’s 10m synchro on only the third day of the Games, he then revealed how knitting is also actually helping his performance. “It’s made a massive difference,” said Daley. “There’s a long wait between the synchro and the individual and there’s a lot of time to think. My time to think has been replaced with knitting and it’s been such a great and welcome distraction for me to be mindful, but also resting. I’m someone that’s really bad at resting. I sit there. I fidget. I bite my nails.”
Tom Daley of Great Britain gets a bag of wool for knitting
It is a sentiment that other sportspeople will undoubtedly relate to. Mark Cavendish, now the joint record stage winner at the Tour de France, uses lego in a similar way to help him stay still and zone his mind into something completely between racing and training. The seven-times World Champion cyclist Beryl Burton was also invariably only ever seen on her bike or with some knitting needles in her hands.
Daley revealed that the Chinese diver, Yang Jiang, told him that he also knits and he says that other competitors use colouring books, games on their phone, music or meditation to switch off. “There’s something different for everyone to get their escape and I’m grateful and lucky that I’ve found something that I enjoy,” said Daley.
Tom Daley of Great Britain knits away in the stands
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
With anything between 10 and 30 minutes between dives, and all the technical preparation long done, it is something that Daley also now finds useful just in those short windows between rounds. “Constantly thinking about diving can be quite draining,” he said. “To be able to come out of it and then go back into it helps a lot.”
Daley says that he has been practicing mindfulness for several years but that he specifically discovered knitting as he left his last competition before lockdown in March 2020. He then began watching YouTube tutorials and also took up crochet. He lists his proudest garments as the first jumper that he ever produced and a multi-coloured cardigan that he made for his husband Dustin. The cardigan has been viewed more than one millions times on social media.
Tom Daley shows off his Team GB cardigan
The Tokyo cardigan, which he unveiled on Instagram, will be auctioned off eventually to raise money for a brain tumour charity in memory of his father, Robert. It has the word ‘Tokyo’ written in Japanese on the front, ‘GBR’ on the right shoulder, the Union Jack on the left and the Team GB logo on the back with the Olympic rings. The outside interest in his hobby, says Daley, has “gone a little bit nuts…it’s kind of crazy”, particularly among his Japanese hosts.
“I did not expect it,” he said. “All the team know that I knit on the bus on the way to the village, on the way to the pool, I knit on the plane, any spare moment I’ve always got my bag of knitting with me.
“People have finished dinner and we’re sitting in the food hall and waiting for them to finish, I pick up my needles. It was actually surprising to me that it even became a thing because I was just doing what I’ve been doing every day. It just happened to be caught on camera and then all of a sudden I’ve been edited into all kinds of different places. It’s quite funny.”