When the duo won gold in the men’s 10m synchronized in July, it was the first Olympic medal in Lee’s young career and the third for Daley, who also won bronze in the 10m in Tokyo.
For Lee, a flurry of celebrations and media opportunities – as well as vacations – followed; the thrill of winning Olympic gold hasn’t faded yet, but the return to his ruthless workout routine brings him back to earth with a considerable splash.
“I always find it very strange to go back to training. I’m like, ‘Do I really want to be here? It’s really difficult,'” said Lee.
“The preseason isn’t easy in any sport. That’s where you get back into shape. It’s horrible, but I just know I have to go through this stage, get back in shape, so I I will feel good and then I can set goals. So I don’t rush to draw conclusions. “
On top of the preseason challenge, Lee does it all without Daley by his side.
The British pair had trained and competed together for three years before the Olympics, forming an undefeated partnership throughout 2021.
But it’s unclear whether the duo will continue to compete together, with Lee saying he doesn’t want to “harass” Daley, 27, into making a decision while in North America with her husband, the screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.
“I’ve loved training alongside Tom for the past three years and it’s really flat without him,” adds Lee.
“We get along so well and we’ve literally practiced together for the last three years. Everything we do, we do it together. Because obviously with the sync we’re trying to make that bond where we haven’t. not to think about being in sync, everything is very telepathic. “
Keep the gold medal
Between training, housework and finding a new place to rent, Lee adds that he’s still in “cloud nine” of the Tokyo Olympics – his first Games.
And while most of his medals are kept in a closet at his parents’ house, Olympic gold rarely leaves him.
“I feel like he just has to be where I am,” Lee said. “I let people touch it, I let people wear it, I let people carry the weight, but I still have a good grip on the tape itself because if they let go, then I’ll grab it. . make a bump on it.
“It was Tom who told me – because obviously he has a lot of medals and a lot of his medals have been dropped – and he says every chip tells a story, so you don’t have to look at it negatively, pretty positive, cool manner. “
‘I can’t believe I did this’
In order to win gold in the men’s 10m synchronized platform, Lee had to keep his cool as the final rolled out on the wire.
Daley and Lee led the Chinese pair of Cao Yuan and Chen Aisen less than two points ahead on the final lap. When the critical moment came, they won the gold medal with a clean dive of four and a half somersaults.
It was Britain’s very first gold medal in the event and ended China’s winning streak dating back to 2000.
“It’s interesting to come back to this,” says Lee. “Every once in a while I come across a video that I’ve been tagged with on Instagram or whatever, and that’s my dive or my reaction with Tom. And I can’t believe I did that.
“I had shitty times in the sport where I just bottled it – the last dive I just didn’t do what I had to do and rolled the dive onto my back , I did a big splash, and then didn’t get any good points and didn’t get on the podium.
“But just knowing that I did it when it counted on the biggest stage in the world of sports, me and Tom… it was obviously the best time of my life.”
Which begs the question: How did he manage to produce one of the best dives of his career when it mattered most?
“One thing I’ve changed – and I think the pandemic has really helped – is the mindset, my mental toughness,” Lee said.
“My physical strength has always been there; I was able to do the dives. I know I can do them well because I do them in training. But in competition, everything is mental. in your mind, you cannot anticipate your dive. “
It helped take care of his own performance, and as for his partner, Lee says he never doubted that Daley – one of the faces of the British Olympic movement for the past 13 years who made his debut at the age of 14 – deliver.
“He’s the only synchro partner I’ve ever had where it was like, I know he’s okay,” Lee said.
“I know I can count on him because he’s so good … Trying to stay in the moment, thinking about what I’m doing right now, simplifying everything in my mind – that’s the main thing which has really improved in my diving career. And that has helped me to reach the level of Tom Daley and to clinch the gold medal with him. “
But slowly, Lee will focus on setting goals for next year, including at the Home Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan.
Although the Olympic floodlights have gone out, the preparation and routine are as intense as ever.