Leon Taylor 'honoured' to be inducted into the Swim England Hall of Fame20 November 2023
Olympic, world, Commonwealth and European diving medallist Leon Taylor has made a lasting contribution to aquatics both during and after his competitive career.
He was a member of Great Britain’s diving team for 16 years and helped pave the way after his historic silver medal alongside his partner Peter Waterfield.
Now Leon’s career has been immortalised following his induction into the Swim England Hall of Fame.
A lover of the sport from a young age, Leon Taylor dreamed of competing at the Olympic Games from the age of six.
An energetic child, he was glued to the television during the 1984 Olympics, and after watching Decathlete Daley Thompson win gold he was inspired to reach that level himself.
His parents channelled Leon’s energy into sport and his love of the water as he took up swimming and gymnastics before moving into diving at the age of eight.
By age 11, he was already a national champion and put his sole focus on moving up the diving ranks where he reached the Olympic Games at just 18 years old.
He said: “I did my A Levels and my first Olympics in the same year, which was a massive undertaking.
“I travelled all around with my revision books at the Olympic qualifiers in the US and Mexico. I came back, had like three days, and then I went to the Olympic trials in Edinburgh.
“So it was intense but being at the Games is magical.
“It’s the world’s greatest event and back then it was newspapers and TV only, so I got to meet my heroes at the time.
“Track and field athletes like Colin Jackson and Linford Christie, who were on the same team as me and I was only 18. It was just an incredible experience. I think I just walked around with my eyes and mouth wide open.”
Leon reached three Olympic Games during his career but it was the introduction of the synchronised diving events and his partnership with ‘close friend’ Peter Waterfield that propelled him to the top of the sport.
“In 1994, synchronised diving wasn’t really a discipline. So when it became an event for the Olympics in 2000 they were like, you’re 17, you’re 14, you two are the best juniors, why don’t you pair up? And that was it.
“So from 1994 onwards, Peter and I were the synchro pair on platform and we kind of grew as that discipline grew.
“Me and Peter were the closest to friends as well as fierce competitors. It was an amazing for us to team up as would exchange wins in the individual events but then we could pair up and always do our best as a team.
“We were fourth at Sydney 2000 so it was even sweeter when we got that Olympic medal four years later.
“And we were fourth by such a narrow margin, all that history built-up and there was so much pressure riding on it.
“We were the strongest medal chance and it was on day one of the Olympic games too but fortunately we delivered.”
Paving the way
That silver medal in 10m Synchronised Platform was the highlight of Leon’s career but part of his legacy is the invention of the 5255b dive – a back 2.5 somersaults, 2.5 twists – which at the time was the World’s most difficult dive.
It came at a time of a major rule changes in the sport, which Leon used to push him up the ranks.
“When you were able to create your own dives I thought it was going to become an arms race.
“I thought, ‘oh god, everyone’s going to be doing these crazy new dives’ but that didn’t really happen straight away and people kind of stuck to what they knew.
“So I thought, well, if I could invent the world’s most difficult dive, if I could do something that no one else can do then that’s got to catch the eye of the judges.
“I think that raised British Diving’s respect because I was the only diver in the world for like a year to be able to do the dive which was pretty cool.”
Since retiring in 2008, Leon has given back to the sport in a number of ways. As well as commentating for the BBC he’s been a mentor to the British diving team and put his experiences to good use to support SportsAid.
He’s been a role model to the likes of Tom Daley who has called him his idol and is honoured to take his deserved place in the Swim England Hall of Fame.
“It’s an honour to have my name alongside these tremendous people because as I went through on the website it was incredible to see the list of those who have impacted aquatics in such a positive way.
“It means a lot because it’s not just about one’s achievements in the sport – although that plays into it – it’s about everything else too so it’s deeply gratifying for me to be recognized for the work that I’ve done since my days competing as well.”
Image: Will Johnston Photography