It’s a long way from being over excited at trying yet another new sport to being an Olympic medallist, but as my old friend Leon Taylor tells me every journey starts somewhere and for him it was a way his parents could channel all that energy into something positive after the doctor told them they had a hyper active child…
“I tried anything mum and dad offered to take me to. I was a ‘not –sitting down’ kid, and it was a great way to keep me engaged. It started with swimming, gymnastics at tumbletots, judo, karate, and many other sports until I stumbled on Dave Turner at Cheltenham Diving Club who suggested I might enjoy diving.
I loved it and soon made progress, helped by my gymnastic training. By 11 I had to make choices like most successful young athletes do. I couldn’t do everything anymore and to progress I had to drop some sports. I was 16th in the 100m backstroke at the national age groups, 4th at the gymnastics nationals but 1st at the UK Diving Championships for my age, so even though I wasn’t the ideal shape for a diver, maybe a bit too tall, I was brave and I had good balance, so it was diving I settled on. It just seemed sensible to go with the one I enjoyed the most.
Mum and dad would take turns in driving me to training. Dad was a builder, but used to be a race starter at swimming galas, and mum, a regular house wife, became a volunteer time keeper. So typical of many sporting parents. They were a huge support, and of course until lottery came in later in my career, they shelled out and put mine and my sisters sporting ambitions top of their list. Mum was great at getting me up at 5am until one day she gave me an alarm clock and said its over to you son to get yourself up if you want to go training. Of course she still woke up too, she had to drive me, but she cleverly gave me the responsibility.
I vividly remember watching Daley Thompson whistle the national anthem at the LA Olympics in 1984 when he won his second Olympic gold medal, and like many Olympians I had that eureka moment when you identify where you want to go with all that hard work. My Olympic dreams were born.
For me probably injury was the toughest challenge. I had to have shoulder reconstruction surgery after the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and my back has been an ongoing management project. Being away from home can be tough too and one of the things a young Tom Daley, who I mentor, found hard. Divers often have to move to 10m facilities, and I moved to Sheffield to get the intensive training I needed. I spent a year on the dole, which was hard, and my advice is that it’s the hunger to win that keeps you going, as well as the love of your sport, there will many hurdles on the way.
Like you Sharron, I’m lucky to be pool side these days commentating for the BBC at all the big events, watching the new generation develop. It’s exciting to still be part of the action and I’m looking forward to Rio. We have great role models, some serious new talent and a good set up in the UK. Diving on the TV like Splash excites youngsters to take up the sport, but sadly diving pits and 50m pools are the first to bite the dust when councils make cuts to new aquatic facilities, and without pits we can’t make champions, so we’re doing ok.
Diving has shaped who I am, who knows where that hyper active child might have been without finding my sport. The tireless support of my parents in those all important early years made my Olympic dreams come true. That and an awful lot of hard work!”
Find out more about Leon at www.leontaylor.co.uk where his book ‘Mentor’ is available