The pair won Britain’s first Olympic diving gold medal with victory in the men’s synchronised three-metres springboard final.
It was a particularly emotional victory for Mears, the 23-year-old from Reading who had life-saving surgery to remove a spleen ruptured while diving in 2009.
“I still can’t really believe that it’s happened,” Mears said. “I’ve come from death’s door to here. I’m pretty proud.”
Proving the British diving team is about more than one man, the City of Leeds pair joined Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow as medallists. And further success could follow before the end of the Games.
Mears and Laugher finished ahead of the United States’ Sam Dorman and Mike Hixon in second and China’s Cao Yuan and Qin Kai in bronze.
“It’s fantastic for us,” said Laugher, who shed some tears. “We’re so overwhelmed with what we’ve done. The dream has happened and it’s paid off.”
Mears added: “I can’t imagine what it would be like to get an individual gold, to do it with my mate is incredible.”
Mears was fifth alongside Nick Robinson-Baker at London 2012, just three years after his accident, which happened in Australia and left medical professionals giving him a five per cent chance of survival.
“When I went into London and competed really well there, that was really emotional for me, because of what had happened to me,” Mears added. “London changed me as a person. I became a bit more mature.”
Mears and Laugher teamed up in 2014 and won Commonwealth gold. World bronze followed last year and European gold was claimed in May before the Olympic title here.
It was their first win on the global stage, in World Cups, World Championships or Olympics.
The British pair, who are housemates in Leeds, led at the halfway point of the competition, which took place in typically British conditions. It was cold and raining.
Laugher said: “We took on the English weather, with the wind and the rain. We embraced it and we’ve come out with the medal, so we’re really happy.”
They enhanced their advantage by scoring 85.68 for their inward 3½ somersaults with tuck.
A score of 86.58 for their forward 2½ somersault 3 twists – the most difficult dive in their repertoire – saw the Britons take an advantage of 2.64 into the final round.
They are the first pair to perform the dive in synchronised competition and Mears joked it should be called ‘the washing machine’.
With the USA nine points adrift in third, it appeared to be a two-way battle for gold, coming down to the final dive.
There was a delay as Mexico wanted a re-dive, but were denied, after claiming to be distracted by additional floodlights coming on.
The USA then responded to score 98.04 with their final dive, reaching 450.21 and piling the pressure on Britain in a tense podium battle.
Mears and Laugher kept their composure, scoring 91.20 for their forward 4 ½ somersault with tuck, to take them to a total of 454.32.
China needed better than 93.84 to win. Laugher and Mears were powerless; they could only watch.
But China faltered, scoring 83.22, which sparked jubilant celebrations among the full British contingent.