Rio 2016: Near-death diver Chris Mears inspired by survival

Chris Mears Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gold medallist Chris Mears began diving at Reading Central Pool

A life-threatening illness suffered by Olympic gold medal-winning diver Chris Mears was the "turning point" in his career, his father has said.

Along with diving partner Jack Laugher, 21, Mears won the men's synchronised 3m springboard final on Wednesday.

The 23-year-old from Burghfield Common in Berkshire was given just a 5% chance of survival after contracting the Epstein-Barr virus in 2009.

His family were in Rio to see the pair win GB's first ever diving gold medals.

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Media captionGB's Mears and Laugher take superb synchro gold

At the age of 16, Mears collapsed with a ruptured spleen, losing five pints of blood.

Speaking to BBC Radio Berkshire before leaving for Rio, he said he had been "pretty close to death's door".

"It helped me adapt to this kind of lifestyle as an athlete," he said.

"That feeling that nothing could be worse than that is a good mindset to have. When you are training and feel you can't do another dive, it helps me work a bit harder.

"At school I was a bit of a joker, it kick-started me to think, 'this is what's life's about - better start doing something now'."

Image caption Mears's family watched the men's synchronised 3 metre springboard final in Rio

His father Paul, who watched his son take gold in Rio, said: "It was the turning point - up until then he was doing his sport because it was something he'd always done.

"He got sick, nearly died and came back from that and dedicated the rest of his youth to the sport. To see it pay off in the one that really matters is just a dream come true."

Jeff Pearce, a coach at Reading Central Pool, recalled how staff were "amazed at what his capabilities were" when Mears began diving lessons as a child.

"He stood out like a sore thumb - his attitude, his physical ability, the things he could try were way beyond his age," he said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chris Mears and Jack Laugher in action during their gold medal-winning performance

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