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Olympic diver Leon Taylor on his love for open water swimming and pledge support

He’s best known as an Olympic diving silver medallist turned TV commentator but Leon Taylor also has another aquatics love – open water swimming. Ian Whadcoat found out more.

When Leon Taylor was convinced to take part in a triathlon in 2012 by a group of friends, little did he realise that open water swimming would become part of his daily routine.

Now, if the stresses of everyday life become too much for the 43-year-old, he has a simple remedy – a quick dip in the sea.

“If I feel frazzled because I’ve not had any sleep or I’ve got too many emails, the only way I can guarantee an emotional reset is jumping in the sea,” said Leon.

“If my mental wellness is being compromised, there’s a lot of things that I could do but being in the open water is the best way to reset the system.

“It became part of my daily routine through lockdown and it was a godsend to maintain that positive frame of mind and the resilience you build from it.

“I love the freedom of it.”

Open water swimming hadn’t really appealed to Leon before he took on his first triathlon challenge – but the element he disliked the most is what he enjoys so much now.

“I hated the cold, he admitted. “I had to figure how to deal with it.

“It did take a while to get used to getting changed in the back of a car or having no warm showers. Divers are notorious for having a warm shower in between dives and this couldn’t be further from the truth, being in the back of my car at 7am in the morning to get into a river.

“I was able to embrace the adventure of doing a triathlon and swimming came back to me very quickly, my technique was reasonably good and I was fast. I would lead at the water quite a lot and then go backwards on the bike and I’m rubbish at running!

“In 2018, the year after I turned 40, I did an Ironman in Lanzarote. It took me 12 hours 10 minutes but I did the 2.4 mile swim in 51 minutes and was the first non-pro out of the water.

“So I still have some swimming skills that have stayed with me.

“I subsequently found a love of the cold in particular and now I get into the sea every day. I live on the south coast and I don’t always necessarily swim but get in for five minutes and enjoy cold water immersion.

“It doesn’t sound very nice but it’s incredibly good for you.”

Fully behind the pledge

Leon is quick to acknowledge that he follows all the relevant safety protocols around open water swimming – especially when the weather is cold.

He has signed the Swim England Open Water pledge which is calling for cleaner waters, better access and increased safety for open water swimmers.

Leon, who won his Olympic silver medal in the 10m Platform alongside Peter Waterfield at the 2004 Athens Games, said: “The ocean’s environments are very important to me – and I’m fully behind the pledge and the fight for better water quality.

“Nothing changes unless we do so it’s important that we raise attention to certain challenges that are going on.

“The pledge helps creates more opportunities for more people. It’s easier to stop things getting worse than undoing all of the damage.

“It’s also about safety. The most important thing about open water swimming is doing it in a safe environment and using the Swim England resources, the dos and don’ts and not being too gung ho about it.

“Increased awareness is required as safety is the number one priority. Once that is in place, I’d encourage everyone to give it a try as it’s amazing.”