Tom Daley is all around the gold

This summer, when the cameras for the Tokyo Olympics focused on British diver Tom Daley, he was almost always knitting: in the swimming pool, in the stands, in the bus.

The needles and thread became Mr. Daley’s signatures, right after his newly minted gold medal. BuzzFeed has deemed its craftsmanship worthy of its own Olympic honors. On social media, knitters, crocheters, and future craftsmen all passed out at his calm demeanor and steady stitches.

Mr. Daley, 27, was among many of us who turned to crafts at the start of the pandemic as a tactile balm for anxious moments and a replacement for disrupted rituals. He had been training for the 2020 Games for four years, and all of a sudden they were off the schedule. Mr. Daley and his teammates used to go to the pool every day and follow a regulated training schedule; Britain’s strict lockdown has turned that upside down.

Its sofa cushions have become a protective mat for practicing somersaults and gymnastics which make diving fascinating to watch. Zoom spin classes, races and team training have become the norm. The time at home allowed her to bond with her young son, Robbie, and her husband, Dustin Lance Black. But he also yearned for a new challenge – something he could take on in his spare time.

At her husband’s suggestion, Mr. Daley began watching introductory knitting videos on YouTube while traveling for a competition in Canada.

“At first I was really bad at it,” he said.

Beginner knitters and crocheters know how difficult it is to learn basic craft techniques from videos alone. But after a lot of practice and consultation with other divers and coaches about their own experiences in the fiber arts, Mr. Daley has found his place.

“With every new project I started, I wanted to learn a new point or skill,” Daley said. “I was completely obsessed with it.”

After mastering the basic knitting and purl stitches, Mr. Daley has conquered the most complicated knitting techniques and last August, added crochet to his craft repertoire. Her Instagram account, @madewithlovebytomdaley, features her own designs as well as those made from popular designs and kits from companies like Wool and the Gang and We Are Knitters.

Once in Tokyo, Mr. Daley’s new hobby became even more essential. Pandemic security measures kept the Olympians isolated, giving them ample time to think about every little move. Knitting has become not only entertainment for Mr. Daley, but a way to deal with his anxiety.

“I was very grateful to have my little cardigan project to give me some healthy distraction and at the same time find calm and peace,” he said.

The 2021 Olympics were a watershed moment for athletes speaking out about mental health and in some cases choosing to prioritize their well-being over competition. Because their work pushes their bodies to limit itself, many Olympians have sought restorative practices, such as spending time with loved ones, writing, and in therapy.

Some studies suggest that knitting, crocheting, and other handicrafts can relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The repeated movements involved in crafts are meditative and require focusing on the task, which can help craftspeople find a healthy distraction from stress. In a 2013 article published in the British Journal of Occupational Therapy, artisans reported feeling happier and calmer. And artisan communities can serve as a necessary social bond in our lives, especially in difficult times.

Mr. Daley’s Olympic knitting certainly drew even more attention to the craft. But he uses his platform and knits for much more.

Rather than leaving cardigans, sweaters and hats to dust in a closet, Mr. Daley regularly raffles the pieces he makes and donates to the Brain Tumor Charity in memory of his father, Rob Daley. , died of brain cancer in 2011.

Mr. Daley made his Olympic debut at the age of 14 at the 2008 Games in Beijing. He won a bronze medal at the London 2012 Games and the Rio 2016 Games. During those early years of his career, he was the victim of bullying in school and a wave of unwanted attention from from the British tabloids, including suggestions that he was not taking his diving career seriously.

At the same time, he mourned the loss of his father and learned more about himself. After falling in love, he announced in a 2013 YouTube video that he was gay.

“I met someone,” he said in the video. “They make me feel so happy, so safe. Everything feels good. Well, that someone is a guy. (Now they are married.)

Outside of the pool, Mr. Daley devotes time to LGBTQ activism. He said when he grew up he felt like a stranger. “I never thought I would be able to do anything, because you don’t see yourself portrayed that way,” he said.

But a lot has changed in terms of representation in the sport since its release to the world. At least 185 athletes at the Tokyo Games have been publicly identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, homosexual or non-binary, which is more than any of the previous Summer Olympics combined, according to Outsports.

“The fact that more people are coming out, I think, is really going to help inspire young gay kids who don’t necessarily know if they’re ever going to do something on their own,” he said. “I want to try to help keep spreading this message to try to make it as level a playing field as possible for all.”

Tokyo was Mr. Daley’s most successful Olympic appearance to date. He won gold on the men’s 10-meter platform synchronized with partner Matty Lee and bronze on the men’s 10-meter platform.

Where does he go after winning a gold medal, becoming a meme, and taking the crafting world by storm? To begin with, he wrote a memoir, “Coming Up for Air,” which is due out this fall. He also said he is seriously considering becoming a knitwear designer.

“I would like to make it more accessible for people to learn that they can see something in the store and then make it themselves. “

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