Tom Daley: British diving's boy wonder comes of age

London (CNN)Beneath the rolling, timber-clad ceiling of London's Aquatics Center, Tom Daley is poised on the concrete ledge of the 10-meter diving platform.

Standing on tiptoes, arms outstretched, Daley tumbles off -- performing a triple somersault before disappearing without so much as a splash into the watery depths of the pool below.
The venue in the UK capital's East End has become a home from home for the 21-year-old Briton in recent times.
It was here, in the Zaha Hadid-designed swimming and diving complex, that Daley won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in the men's individual 10m platform on the penultimate day of competition to delight the home support.
    Today, the seats that flank the pool are all but empty as Daley nails countless practice dives in preparation for the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia.
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    Training inside the vast interior, which has been called a cathedral for swimming, Daley can be forgiven for occasionally getting lost in a reverie about the past rather than focusing on the future.
    "The experience of 2012 was incredible, and to be at the Aquatic Center coming back and training every day is just great," Daley tells CNN's Human to Hero series.
    "You walk in and you have all those memories. For me, competing in front of a home crowd at the Olympic Games with all my friends, all my family cheering and supporting me -- it was a feeling like no other."
    Daley, who recently won a FINA World Series event in London, has come a long way in a very short time -- starting his journey at swimming baths in Plymouth, southwest England, to arguably the plushest pool on the planet and, built at a cost of £250 million ($390m), the UK's most expensive leisure center.

    'Shark attack'

    He got hooked on the sport at the age of seven after watching people somersault from a board at his local pool.
    But things didn't go swimmingly at first.
    "Other than when I first started, the big standout memory for me was when I hit my head on the board," he explains.
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    "There was lots of blood in the pool -- it looked a little bit like a shark attack, and that's why I've got that scar there on my forehead now," he says, raising a hand towards his right temple.
    But the impact didn't dent his enthusiasm. If anything, it made him even keener to carry on.
    "The adrenaline rush of it made it more exciting to me and the danger of it. I am a little bit weird in the way I like danger."
    That sense of trepidation about diving from a height in excess of two double-decker buses is something that never really goes away -- and nor should it, Daley thinks.
    "I get scared every single time I am on the platform. Not scared like worried scared, but as an adrenaline-fueled thing," he explains.
    "You have to have that because if you aren't a little bit nervous and a little bit pumped up, then that's when you are not sharp and you are going to make mistakes."

    A champion's mindset

    Daley showed promise as a diver right from the off, but it was another quality that made him stand out, says his former British teammate Leon Taylor, who is now a diving commentator.
    Taylor, who won a silver medal alongside Peter Waterfield in the synchronized 10m platform at the 2004 Athens Olympics, first met Daley when he was 10.
    "The thing that impressed me most was his mindset," Taylor says.
    "I was thinking he's bound to be a bit nervous, so I should ask him some questions. But within a couple of minutes he was asking me questions, questions that were making me step back and reflect.
    "He was asking me what I think when I'm standing at the end of the diving board and I thought, 'There is something very special here.'
    "Then I saw him dive in the pool and I thought, 'OK, I can see why people are getting excited.'"

    Maybe I do have a springboard career in me after all ;)

    A video posted by Tom Daley (@tomdaley1994) on

    Four years later, when most 14-year-olds are watching their Olympic idols on television, Daley was lining up against them at the 2008 Beijing Games.
    At 14 years and 81 days, Daley was the youngest member of the British team in China after earning his place by winning the British and European 10m platform titles earlier that year, becoming the youngest winner of both competitions.
    He didn't get anywhere near those results in Beijing, finishing eighth in the synchronized 10m platform final and seventh in the individual 10m event.
    But glory didn't elude him for long -- at 15 he became the first Briton to win an individual 10m world title at the 2009 world championships in Rome.

    Psychological battle

    As Daley tumbles, tucks, twists and spins his way towards the water, it's easy to see just how physically demanding the sport is.
    Divers are required to have the strength and agility of gymnasts -- some jumps start from a handstand position -- as they plummet towards the water in under two seconds, hitting the surface at around 35 mph from the 10m board.
    But the psychological side of the sport is just as tough, Daley says.
    "Yes, the training is hard and you have to do lots of work in the gym and lots of work in the pool," he says.
    "But it's actually really (mentally) draining because of the amount of time you have to think, and what you have to think about when you are on the end of the board -- you have to make split-second decisions.
    "You take off, you see everything, you have to spot exactly where you are in the air -- you have to see the water as you are spinning -- and when you hit the water you land vertical. We call it the rip entry, which is when you go in the water with no splash."

    Dive for your memory

    Life events have, in many ways, forced Daley to toughen his mental resolve. In 2006 his father Rob, his biggest supporter, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died five years later.
    "My dad took me to every single training session (and) every competition he was always there flying his massive Union Jack flag in the stands," says Daley.
    "It was really tough going to competitions after he passed away in 2011 -- not seeing the flag there -- but it gave me the extra motivation because I really wanted to make him proud and go out there and win an Olympic medal."

    3 years ❤️❤️❤️ we all miss you, Dad :(

    A photo posted by Tom Daley (@tomdaley1994) on

    Taylor says he is most impressed by the way Daley has carried himself in and out of the pool in recent years.
    "I hold him in such high regard -- not because of what he has achieved in the pool, although that is amazing. It's how he conducts himself on and off the field of play," Taylor says.
    "And on the list of achievements outside the pool goes the way he acts as an inspiration and a role model -- it's quite something."

    Coming up for air

    At the end of 2013, Daley caused an Internet sensation when he published a five-minute clip on YouTube.
    Sitting on his bed, propped up by Union Jack pillows, Daley announced he wanted "to put an end to all the rumors and speculation" about his sexuality after being misquoted in a newspaper interview.
    In the video, watched more than 11.5 million times, Daley explained that he was "dating a guy (American screenwriter and director Dustin Lance Black) and I couldn't be happier."
    The revelation heaped even more pressure on his private life -- photographs of the pair regularly appear in the British press -- but from a sporting perspective it was a release.
    "If anything it was a bonus because it took a lot of weight off my shoulders and I was able to compete and train as normal," he says.

    Having an awesome time at the #CapitalSTB with @dlanceblack :) feeling very lucky ❤

    A photo posted by Tom Daley (@tomdaley1994) on

    Daley has also been lending his public support to a UK-based LGBT helpline called Switchboard.
    "I've been lucky in having friends and family to talk to," he told British newspaper The Guardian earlier this month.
    "Lots of people don't have that, because if they told their family they'd be kicked out on the streets."
    Sharing his experiences on social media continues to be a huge part of his life -- he boasts more than 2.5 million Twitter followers and recently clocked up one million followers on Instagram. For him, it's become second nature and is the simplest way to keep his fans informed.
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    "I have grown up doing it, so it's natural to me to engage with people on social networks ... I don't think about it, I just do it."
    Daley's success has earned him a starring role in a British TV diving show, "Splash," but also less welcome attention from online trolls.
    During London 2012, a British teenager was arrested for sending an offensive message about Daley's father via Twitter after he and Peter Waterfield finished outside the medals in the 10m synchronized dive.
    Daley will be hoping to add a second world individual 10m title to his collection in Russia this weekend, but his thoughts are already turning to Rio.
    "It's what every athlete works towards and it's what I am fighting for every single day in the gym, in the pool," he says.
    "I want to go into that competition with absolutely no regrets, in the best shape of my life, in the best possible position to try to win that Olympic gold medal."
    He won't be drawn on what happens with his career after that, but he's happy to divulge his plans straight after the Games' closing ceremony.
    "All I know is that I am going to take lots of time off to eat lots of cheesecake, eat lots of chips and probably put on a bit of weight and come back to diving after that!"

    The calm before the storm #Rio 📷credit : @hannahfstarling

    A photo posted by Tom Daley (@tomdaley1994) on