Olympian Tom Daley Won Gold, But Says Knitting Is His Real 'Superpower'

With less than two years to go before the Summer Olympics, Tom Daley knows time’s running out on deciding whether to participate in his fifth games or not.

The first British diver to ever win four Olympic medals (including a gold in men’s synchronized platform diving in the 2020 Tokyo games), Daley is on the fence.

“I haven’t really made any final decisions yet and I am enjoying a little bit of time away from the pool,” Daley tells TODAY.com in a sit-down interview.

Daley says there are “other things” he’d like to do, including spend more time with husband Dustin Lance Black and their 5-year-old son, Robert.

Still, he’s not ready to rule out a 2024 trip to Paris just yet.

“It’s a hard one,” he says. “I would miss it.”

Fortunately, Daley says he’s got a few months before he has to commit. Choosing to participate means returning to an “intense schedule" of five to six-hour daily workouts — and all the pressure that comes along with competing.

“It’s extremely difficult," he says. "It took me 20 years to win an Olympic Gold medal because it’s really hard to be at the top of your game on that day and (have) everything fall in the right place."

Thomas Daley of Team Great Britain knitting before the Men's 10m Platform Final. (Clive Rose / Getty Images)
Thomas Daley of Team Great Britain knitting before the Men's 10m Platform Final. (Clive Rose / Getty Images)

What’s helped him manage the stress, he says, is knitting, a pastime his husband first suggested he try.

After watching tutorials on YouTube, Daley says he fell in love with the craft. “I became obsessed, essentially,” he said. “The first thing I made was a scarf for my mum when I went for Mother’s Day.”

To personalize the scarf, he ordered a package of “Made with Love” labels on the internet. That’s where the inspiration for the title of his new book of knitting and crocheting patterns originated.

“Every project I did, I learned a new skill and then I taught myself how to crochet as well and then I started designing and learning how to be able to actually design something from a drawing,” Daley says.

That viral Olympic cardigan

Not someone to sit still or watch television, Daley says knitting soon became his way of unwinding. “Most people exercise to get rid of stress,” he says, “but my stress was the exercise."

Knitting, however, provided a way to relax and recover from his intensive training sessions.

When it came time to compete in the 2020 Olympics (held in Tokyo in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic), his newfound hobby helped “save” him from overthinking, he says.

“When you train for four years — in this case it was five because of the pandemic — you get one chance, six dives," he says, and the pressure to get it right in that single moment can get into a person's head.

But knitting helped him deal with the stress and kept his mental health in check. Daley says those knitting needles were essentially his “superpower” to bringing home the gold.

“We weren’t allowed to go out, we weren’t allowed to do anything, to socialize and there was so much time to overthink about things,” he says. “So, I ended up doing that all the time to get out of my own head. It was my meditation, it’s my calm.”

Images of Daley knitting poolside during the Tokyo games went viral around the world, along with sweater he worked on — a “Team G.B.” Olympic cardigan. To this day, he says it remains his favorite project.

“In 20 years’ time, I wanted to be able to look back and be like I made this during those Olympics games as a memento,” Daley says.

Thomas Daley with his knitting as he watches divers in the preliminary round of the men's 3m springboard diving event. (Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images)
Thomas Daley with his knitting as he watches divers in the preliminary round of the men's 3m springboard diving event. (Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images)

Simone Biles and getting through tough times

Daley says the Tokyo Olympics were significant in that they became a platform for athletes to open up about their mental health struggles. Gymnast Simone Biles opened up a conversation after withdrawing from the team final competition.

“I think that’s what the last Olympics are so special for," he says. "Even people like Simone Biles, speaking out about her mental health and how people struggled, and didn’t necessarily have the coping mechanisms to be able to deal with it.

"It’s nice now that athletes are able to open up and talk about those things a little bit more," he continues.

Daley said he's had his own share of challenges including losing his father in 2011, the year prior to the 2012 Olympics in London.

“That for me was a really tough one to keep going through, but I kind of really that shut away and I didn’t really take the time to grieve until a few years later, because I just buried myself into diving,” he says.

Figuring out his sexuality as a public figure was another challenge, Daley says. “Having to do that in a very public way was really difficult and scary.”

However, he says that surrounding himself with good people and being able to talk about his struggles has helped him to “come out on the other side,” better able to “ride all of those emotions out.”

“I think the pandemic opened everyone’s eyes that everybody struggles in a certain way, which is good that now people are starting to open up,” he says.

'Made with Love' and advice for his son

Included in his new book “Made with Love" are knitting and crocheting patterns for pillow covers, blankets and sweaters. Daley says that putting the patterns together was a fun process, and might encourage people to "upcycle, reuse and repurpose" some of their existing items.

He also says that “Made with Love” is way to share his passion for knitting with other people. Daley hopes that once his son is old enough, they can enjoy the pastime together.

“He’s a bit young at the moment to properly do it, but he wants to learn,” he says. “That would be the dream, to sit together on the sofa and be knitting all afternoon, I’d love that.”

Knowing the pressure that comes with being a competitive athlete, Daley says that if his son decided to go into sports, he wouldn’t discourage it.

“If that’s what he wanted to do, I would just be there to help him with whatever he needed and give him advice,” he says.

Mostly he just hopes that “Robbie” finds something that he loves in life.

And, at least for now, Daley says his son hasn’t shown much interest in diving. “As he gets older, maybe he will, but he’s very much creative and loves music and dance, so who knows?”

The ‘pinnacle’ of all Olympics

Looking back at the four Olympic games he's participated in, Daley says each one represents something different.

Back in Beijing in 2008, he was simply exited to be at the Olympics. He won his first Olympic medal in the 2012 London Olympics in front of his home crowd, which he says was special.

Rio in 2016 was his most difficult because he thought he was going to be at his best. "Then it didn’t quite turn out as I wanted,” Daley says.

And Tokyo? “Tokyo was, for me, the pinnacle of all the Olympics, all the experiences that led up to that moment and being able to do that,” he says. “For me, that was still the most special one.”

His dream craft project

Though Daley’s Olympic future remains up in the air, there's one thing he's sure of and that’s the person he’d love to knit for.

“I would love to knit a custom, lacy, crazy piece for Dua Lipa,” he says. “I think she wears lots of handmade knit and crochet stuff. I would love to dress her in something."

This article was originally published on TODAY.com