Tom Daley is undoubtedly reeling this week. On Monday he received a volley of abusive tweets after he came fourth in the men’s synchronised 10m platform diving.
Twitter is an extraordinary phenomenon through which we are able to bare our soul, our most private thoughts and communicate directly with those we envy and admire.
‘Hate tweets’ speak more about the sender than about the receiver and have consequences both for the targets of the tweets and increasingly for the sender as we see in the cases of Tom Daley and Rio Ferdinand this week.
These tweets simply reveal what was already there now available through a form of immediate communication where unpleasant and inappropriate thoughts are made instantly public.
All that has changed is that now we are able to invest our hopes and dreams in those more fortunate or famous than ourselves via a very public platform. This is sadly becoming commonplace.
Everyone is aware of the immediacy of a tweet and at times we reach anxiously for the delete button when we realise that what we have written is not appropriate.
Twitter allows us to reveal who we really are to the world and this is not always pleasant such as Rio Ferdinand’s recent “choc” retweet which he now allegedly regrets and will be sanctioned for.
In this action we find out about an aspect of Rio which otherwise might remain hidden from public view. In contrast, we can only remark on Ashley Cole’s wisdom in not responding. Some younger Team GB members have announced their withdrawal from the online world during the Games and this is sensible in my opinion.
I do not believe the offensive tweets will have had too much effect on Tom Daley or that he will have taken them personally. However, high-level performance is so highly tuned that tiny changes can throw an athlete off balance.
Simon Hattenstone in The Guardian writes of Tom Daley: “I met him shortly after his father died and what astonished me was the equanimity with which he dealt with the loss of dad, mate and mentor”. To “hold” equanimity takes effort and adjustment. It was noted that just before their disastrous fourth dive, the camera picked out Prime Minister David Cameron in the crowd. This could have been enough to disturb the diver’s concentration.
Tom Daley has been able at some level to “hold himself together” since the death of his father. The Olympics has given him a goal, a lifeline the possibility of a sense of meaning in this terrible loss. It is through his anger and energy that it is his desire to make a statement to himself, the world and his father.
This type of anger fuels achievement and drives us to great things. Yet I fear for him, his success at the Olympics may be so tied up with his relationship to his father and the need to make a meaningful statement that this may sow the seeds of a very difficult time for him afterwards – if he does well – or not. He carries all this as well as the weight of a nation’s expectations on his shoulders.
Post Olympics with no immediate goal I imagine it will be much tougher to hold the “equanimity” and it is likely that the huge emotions he must be holding will surface. The drive to meaning may be overtaken by the feelings which will inevitably surface in a post-Olympics less structured period of his life.
Though Tom’s career was forged with his father Rob sitting poolside he has performed well recently, notably in the World Series at the European Championships in May. Tom and diving partner Pete were undoubtedly medals hopefuls going into the Olympics and they have had to face huge disappointment.
It will be a huge effort for Tom Daley to hold and contain the intensity of his feelings and his hopes – his anger, grief and sadness and to now refocus himself physically and spiritually. He dives in the individual event on August 11, 2012. This will be both his next challenge and his opportunity. I wish him well.