Diver Matty Lee: ‘My mind just went blank. It was like a state of flow’

“Breathe. Just keep breathing.” It’s the final dive of the Olympic closing, and Matty Lee’s mind is racing. He’s pondering: “Oh my god, you could get an Olympic gold medal.” And he’s pondering: “If you mess this up, you might not get anything.” He feels the adrenalin coursing in him, his focus starting to wander. But he’s additionally deliberate for this. He is aware of what to do.

Lee and Tom Daley are within the gold-medal place, with a minuscule margin of 1.74 factors over Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen of China. Daley is aware of this. Lee doesn’t. During competitions Daley retains a shut eye on the scoreboard, calculates the gaps in his head, is aware of what’s required always. Lee, then again, “doesn’t like to mess with that sort of stuff. I can’t handle it”.

To get to the 10-metre platform, you want to climb 4 flights of steps. When one group dives, everybody strikes up a flight. “I remember being at the bottom of the 10m stairs,” Lee says. “And I remembered a situation like this before. It was the World Series in London in 2019, and I was actually beating Tom until the last dive. But I was too busy thinking about the end product – I’m about to get a medal in front of a home crowd – and forgot what I actually had to do. I messed up the dive.”

The dive Lee and Daley have chosen is their hardest of all: a entrance four-and-a-half somersaults in tuck place. “You start at the back of the board, and you do a little hop and a skip towards the end,” Lee explains. “And it was weird: right before we started, my mind just went blank. Almost like I had no control. It was like a state of flow. Whatever was going to happen, happened.”

For a sport that calls for rigorous bodily conditioning, relentless coaching and full command of the feelings beneath the very best stress, one of essentially the most placing issues about diving is how little of it’s in your management. Your opponents may pull off perfection. Your associate may mess up. And then comes the best variable of all: your self, and what occurs in these 32 ft of clear, terrifying air.

Lee is again dwelling in Leeds now, a gold medal in his hand, his life modified endlessly. Daley, who has remained in Japan for the person competitors and is eager for his associate to get the credit score he deserves, has urged him to “soak it all in”. Through the jet lag and euphoria Tokyo already feels like a unusual fever dream: a panoply of vivid photographs that also makes little sense to him. “You just you don’t think it will actually happen,” he says. “And then it did. And it feels like I’m watching someone else.”

Matty Lee and Tom Daley diving for gold.
Matty Lee and Tom Daley diving for gold. Photograph: Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA

A diving partnership, with its intimacy and fetishisation of small particulars, is a little like a marriage. Daley jokingly refers to Lee as his “work husband”, and since they teamed up in 2018 it has been a marriage of minds in addition to our bodies. “We just clicked,” Lee says. “There is genuinely not a bad bone in his body. He was my idol when I was a young diver. Now I’m really proud to call him my mate.”

But it was on the pool the place their relationship actually blossomed. Naturally comparable in top and construct, over brutal weeks and months they’d construct and drill a bulletproof routine that will stand up to the stress of an Olympic closing. “During the whole competition, me and Tom didn’t say a single word to each other,” Lee admits. “We were that much in the zone. Nothing was fazing us. That’s what all the training is for. By the time we get to competition, all that’s left is the counting. I say: ‘Ready.’ Then Tom says: ‘One, two, three, go.’”

Matty Lee holds his gold medal, the olympic ring was a gift from Tom Daley just before the games started.
Matty Lee holds his gold medal, the olympic ring was a present from Tom Daley just earlier than the video games began. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Guardian

All that is still is you, the deep blue and your demons. And there are all the time demons in a sport like this, leaping off a concrete platform the peak of a four-storey constructing into an unsure destiny. Lee nods with recognition on the point out of Simone Biles, a champion athlete crushed between the wheels of self-doubt, exterior stress and excessive bodily hazard.

“Like, it’s so scary,” he admits. “I remember a session not long ago in London, before we flew out to Tokyo, where I literally didn’t know if I was going to make the dive. Which is a horrible feeling. I’ve never experienced the pressure that Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka have been through. But it’s very sad to see them getting so much hate and negativity. With a physical injury, no one bats an eyelid. But as soon as you say it’s your head, they don’t believe you.”

Happily, by the point Lee has launched into his closing dive on the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, he’s now not pondering something in any respect. “I did my hop and skip off the board, and felt really light,” he remembers. “I jumped into my tuck shape, and when I was spinning I felt comfortable. Then I saw the water and knew I was going to be upright. As soon as I hit the water, I knew I did a good one.” They each had, to the tune of 101.01 factors: about as near perfection as it’s affordable to count on.

But if anyone was succesful of producing an much more excellent riposte, it was the sensible, mysterious Chinese, who hadn’t been seen in competitors all 12 months. “Damn it, that was very good,” Lee remembers pondering as they hit the water in excellent unison. “They probably have got us there.” The wait – a minute that felt like hours – was excruciating. Then, lastly, the decision. Cao and Chen: 101.52. Great Britain had gained gold by 1.23 factors.

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After which, the recollections blur a little. There have been beneficiant phrases from the Chinese, raucous congratulations from everybody else, a medal ceremony, doping management, interviews, celebrations, calls from jubilant relations at dwelling. It was dusk when Lee lastly returned to the athletes’ village along with his valuable cargo. “You have to go through security every time,” he explains. “And when I put the medal in the tray all the Japanese security people went crazy and started clapping. That was a really nice moment.”

Now again at dwelling, Lee is in no rush to map out his future. Paris in 2024 is a good distance away, however he insists: “I’m 23 years old, I’ve easily got another Olympics in me.” And as for Daley? “I honestly have no idea. But it would be great to do another Olympics with him. I would love that.”

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