Throughout the six dives he rarely looked to be performing at the level required to seriously challenge China's Lin Yue or Qiu Bo for a medal, and his fate seemed sealed on his fifth dive, a back three and a half somersault, when he entered the water bent.
He did just enough on his final dive to ensure he finished fifteenth in the field of 32, with the top 18 going through to the semi-finals on Saturday.
“Towards the end of it my legs were starting to shake and I was feeling tired and it was one of those things where I just wanted it to be over," Daley said.
“But I have done my job because I have made it into the semi-final, it might not have been the most comfortable of margins but the semi-final is a new day.
“A final environment is completely atmosphere because you are not sitting around waiting and you know that it counts because although the preliminaries count they don’t towards your final score.”
Daley is a household name in Britain after he competed at the Olympics in Beijing aged 14, before going on to win the platform world title at 15.
But he has been criticised for his focus on media appearances and sponsorship deals, which his Russian performance director Alexei Evangulov said had impacted his ability to live up to his potential.
The preliminary contest at the Aquatics Centre was competitive from the very first dive, when Russia's Gleb Galperin nailed an inward three and half somersault to score 88 points.
Beijing gold medallist Matthew Mitcham from Australia qualified in ninth position, while world championship silver medallist, American David Boudia, just squeaked into 18th.
Daley's synchro partner Pete Waterfield failed to reach the semi-finals.
Qiu and Lin qualified in the top two places, just ahead of Germany's Sascha Klein.
“That was far too close for my liking I can tell you that,” said Daley.
“It was a tough competition for many reasons. I don’t normally compete at that time of night for one and then the second was the fact that there were 32 competitors in it which meant having to wait half an hour between dives."
While Daley would have felt relief at squeezing through, he would have perhaps have watched on with fear as favourite Qui Bo of China finished top of the pile with a phenomenal points tally of 563.70.
But rather than focus on who did well, Daley is quick to point out that he wasn’t the only one to struggle.
“For me you can never know what will happen in an Olympic Games,” he added.
“David Boudia only just qualified in 18th and he won a silver medal at the World Championships last year, you have Victor Minibaev who came second in the World Cup this year and he is down in the pack too.
“So that is what makes the Olympics such a tough competition because you have to go three rounds to make the final and anything can happen.”