Leon Taylor’s biggest Olympic achievement was winning silver in the 2004 Athens Olympics with partner Peter Waterford in the men’s synchronised 10 metre platform – this was Britain’s first Olympic diving medal since 1960. Leon had previously come fourth in the same competition in the 2000 summer Olympics in Sydney. He was due to compete in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing but had to retire that year due to injuries after 22 years in the sport.
His other achievements include silver in the men’s 10m platform at the 2002 Commonwealth Games (he had won Bronze in 1998), and has won multiple medals at all other major Diving Championships during a 16 year diving career for Great Britain. He trained in the Ponds Forge swimming complex in Sheffield from 1997 -2008.
Leon is known within the diving world for pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. His invention of ‘the world’s most difficult dive’ – a backward 2.5 somersaults with 2.5 twists in the piked position is a legacy that continues to live long after his competitive days.
Retiring from diving in May 2008, Leon was an integral part of the BBC Sports Olympic coverage and has also been mentor to diving sensation Tom Daley. This latter role led him to write his first book – ‘Mentor – The most important role you were never trained for’ aimed at organisations wishing to engage and nurture talent through mentoring.
He also teaches ‘hot yoga’ at Yogahaven in London, has run a few marathons, climbed Kilimanjaro and has recently taken up triathlons.
LEON TAYLOR INTERVIEW
How have you found experience of making Splash! so far?
It’s been really exciting. We had a lot of fun filming the pilot, it’s a brilliant format. Also, the live audience increases the pressure on everyone involved. If it wasn’t live, I could ramble on and they could just edit me. But when it’s live, every word counts. Also, there are so many incredible people are involved. The amount of time, effort and energy given to the production is truly astonishing. It’s amazing to see a diving pool transformed into a wonderful entertainment arena.
What do you think this show will do for the sport of diving in Britain?
Eight years ago, Pete Waterfield and I won a silver medal in Athens. It was Britain’s first diving medal for 44 years; that was the tipping point. Since then, I’ve spent my time shouting into the microphone as a commentator, but diving has moved into a different stratosphere and now, it’s a Saturday night ITV1 entertainment show. That will take it on to a different level again and help it find a new audience. This show should be fun, accessible and entertaining. All we want to do is share our love of this fantastic sport. If we could do for diving what Dancing on Ice has done for ice-skating in terms of getting people out there and trying the sport; that would be amazing.
Are you going to play the bad cop as a judge?
No. During the pilot, I got booed a lot. I was just being very honest, but that can be interpreted as mean. As soon as you say something mildly critical, you get booed. I’m very much on the positive side. However, if there were an error, it would be remiss of me not to call it. I want to give the audience the chance to know why my mark might be higher or lower than the other judges.
Are you impressed by the celebrities who volunteered to take part in Splash!?
Yes. Diving is really difficult to get to grips with. It’s a very complicated and dangerous sport, in diving, you can injure yourself at any time. This is for brave celebrities only. Also, they don’t wear very much so they’re very exposed. You can’t go off a high board wearing a suit. You have to be in something tighter fitting than a shirt and trousers!
What impact has Tom Daley had on the sport?
Soon after Pete and I won our medal in Athens, I started to hear the name “Tom Daley,” bandied about. I’ve been on the journey with him since the beginning. I met him when he was just 10 years old, and I can only share with you how mesmerised I was back then. I was his hero, but he seemed to be way above his years. Tom and I now have a long-lasting friendship; he has a way about him that is very special. That’s why he has captured the hearts and minds of so many people.
Do you think Tom will rise to the challenge of being in front of the camera for a different reason?
Absolutely. He’s such a popular young man. He’s so good in front of the camera and he’s so inspirational, good-looking and articulate. I do a lot of school visits and all the kids want to talk about is Tom because he’s one of them. Sixteen million people tuned in to watch him dive at the Olympics. It’s incredible to have that kind of interest in one person. Now we have a chance to see him every Saturday night on ITV.