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Tom Daley says Leon Taylor was his idol as a young diver

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As a 10-year-old, Tom Daley watched Leon Taylor win a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games and knew he wanted to emulate his success.

Almost 16 years on, the pair have reflected on their long-standing friendship which has now seen mentoring between them go full circle.

Taylor says winning silver in the 10m synchro event at the 2004 Athens Olympics alongside Peter Waterfield was the ‘peak of his career’ – and it also proved to be a key moment for Daley.

After claiming British diving’s first Olympic medal in 44 years, Taylor began to travel to clubs throughout the country to inspire young divers.

That’s when he first met Daley – and the rest, as they say, is history.

Meeting and first impressions

On first meeting Taylor, Daley said: “Leon was my idol growing up. I watched him dive in the Athens 2004 Olympics with Pete in synchro when they won their silver medal and I remember just being in complete awe.

“Then I went to my first senior nationals and saw him there and ran over to him asking him to sign my British diving calendar, which I was really excited about.”

Their first conversation was an unforgettable one for Taylor, he said: “When I first met Tom, and this was in the first conversation I ever had with him, I just couldn’t believe that a 10-year-old was asking such insightful questions.

“I’d met many youngsters on my travels and never had I met a youngster with such a curiosity to learn and to find out from my experiences.

“Instantly I was impressed and almost shocked by what seemed like a very wise 10-year-old in front of me.

“That very same day I watched him in the pool and I saw the raw potential and talent that this young boy had and something clicked in my head.

“I was like ‘wow, I wonder how good he could be one day’.

“If I could get everything that’s in my head, everything that I’ve learnt, and put it in his, I wonder if that would help? I wonder how good he could be.

“If I’m honest, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do at that stage as a mentor, or what I was meant to say, but my intention was very simple. To share everything that I’d learned, with him.”

Mentoring

As Daley’s career progressed, the pair began catching up on a weekly basis to talk not only about diving, but also pressures outside of sport such as school work and being away from home.

Daley said: “Leon was able to talk about some of his experiences and pass on his experience to me which was awesome and looking back on it now, it was so valuable to have.

“Some of the key things he taught me were to be patient and that not every day was going to be a good day.

“When I went through a mental block and I couldn’t actually dive off the diving board, he explained to me that it’s happened to him so then I didn’t feel as weird and alone in that.

“You don’t realise how useful it is to have a mentor until you start hearing things like ‘oh I never thought of it like that’ or ‘that’s such a different way to look at it’.

“I was thinking it was the worst thing in the world but actually if you think of it as just one day in the scheme of things, it’s not so bad.

“Being able to get a sense of perspective from somebody who has been through it made a massive difference.”

Taylor enjoyed being a mentor and has since mentored many young athletes across many different sports.

He said: “It was an absolute joy to impart some of my knowledge.

“I was never telling Tom what to do because he was able to make it his own and I think that’s one thing about great mentoring.

“It’s not giving advice and telling people what to do, it’s listening, asking questions, telling stories and guiding from the sidelines.

“I was delighted to be able to share and impart my experiences in a way that was able to benefit Tom.

“There was a point in Rome in 2009 where I was live doing BBC commentary. I’d retired a year before, but that moment that Tom won the World Championships at 15 was truly mind-blowing.

“To do that at that age, it was an incredible competition right down to the last dive. It was so dramatic and so incredible, the feeling is almost impossible to put into words.

“The sense of pride that I was feeling as a mentor and as a fan of the sport – he’d taken British diving to a whole new level.”

Good friends

At 42, Taylor has now been retired for almost 12 years and continues to commentate for the BBC as well as teaching yoga and mental wellness.

Daley, 25, is still coached by his mentor when current diving coach, Jane Figueiredo, is away.

He said: “Leon comes down to the pool every now and then and has also coached me as well.”

Now, however, the roles are reversed and it’s Daley advising Taylor.

Taylor added: “To see the sport in the place it is, is incredible and to have played a part in Tom’s journey as I did and still continue to do as a friend now, it’s an exciting thing to reflect on.

“Obviously I know his husband and his son. I’m going to be a parent in the next few months as well so Tom is sharing lots of his parenting tips with me.

“I’m going to be tapping him up for some mentoring in parenting.”

You can hear from the pair at 4:30pm on Monday 20 April as they take part in a live question and answer session on the Swim England Instagram page.

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