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Do you have what it takes to be an Olympic athlete?

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June 28, 2012

Do you have what it takes to be an Olympic athlete?

In just a few weeks time the greatest show on earth comes to London town!

From 27th July 2012, London plays host to the Games. This is the third time that London has hosted the modern Olympic and Paralympic Games and the only city ever to have hosted three Olympiads (an Olympiad is a period of four successive years and the Olympic Games celebrate each Olympiad).

At this year’s Games, there will be 26 different sports and group exercise with over 14,000 athletes from 205 Olympic teams and 170 Paralympic teams competing for the highly coveted gold medal.

But what makes an Olympian? What makes them tick? How did these athletes get to become the best in the world? What sacrifices did they make? And what fitness programs set the medal winners apart from the other competitors?

To help me find the answers to these questions I have been very fortunate to have one of our members at Clapham Common tell me about his is experiences as a professional sportsman.

At the end of one of our 09:30 exercise classes, we were all walking back to the van and the usual conversations begin between instructors and members...... “Boy that was a killer workout” “Did you get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning” or comments about some dreaded burpee ladder circuit involved in the fitness boot camp!

Leon Taylor and I were talking about burpee technique and why he did his the way he did. Leon explained that he was protecting his back as he’d had many injuries in the past.

I thought very little of it. Then we got talking about his outdoor training history, and it turned out that [LINK "" "Leon Taylor"] had been a professional athlete for 22 years!

Little did I know that I was putting an Olympic silver medallist through his paces in a BMF class.

In the 2004 Athens Olympics, Leon and his diving partner Peter Waterfield, managed to secure Britain's first medal in the sport of diving for 44 years.

So last month, I caught up with Leon properly to ask him some questions to help me understand what a professional athlete must do to be the best.

[B]How and why did you get in to diving?[/B]
“I was a hyperactive child and used to drive my parents up the wall – so to try and deal it they did what they could to tire me out – my active life started way before I can remember. I was swimming while still in nappies and went to ‘tumble tots’ (mother and baby gymnastics). I tried all sports I could, but didn’t really excel at anything in particular. I started diving at 8 years old. Initially it was just another of my many sporting exercise classes but by the time I was 11 I was the best in the UK for my age group.”

[B]What kind of facilities did you have in your local area and how important is it to have somewhere you can train?[/B]
“I was very fortunate that in Cheltenham there was a diving pool and most importantly a diving club. The facilities were very basic and it meant a lot of travelling to bigger venues as I progressed. . I made the 1996 Olympic GB team on the 10m platform and the pool in Cheltenham only had a 5m platform. I had to travel every weekend either 2.5 hours south to Plymouth or 2.5 hours north to Sheffield to the nearest pool with a 10m board! As soon as I finished my A levels I moved to Sheffield – which was then the only high performance centre for British Diving."

[B]As you were growing up what kind of sacrifices did you have to make? And how did your upbringing differ to your peers?[/B]
"Too many to mention. I had to have a default answer of ‘no’ to most invitations. Birthdays, weddings, social gatherings, holidays, funerals, etc. You get used to it though – it’s harder for those around you to accept. “It’s only one day off training – you’ll be alright, etc” but the reality is elite sport and sacrifice go hand in hand. I used to get ½ day Christmas Eve and Christmas day off and then be back into it on Boxing Day!"

[B]Can you give us a brief description of a day in the life of Leon Taylor?[/B]
"I used to train for an average of six hours a day, six days a week. This would usually be split into three hours in the diving pool practicing diving skills on different high boards, with varying levels of difficultly depending on time of season. The rest of the day would be fitness programs in the ‘dry land area’ using trampolines, body conditioning, core work, resistance bands, pilates, weight training. The intention here is to train the body to be powerful, flexible, explosive, co-ordinated and strong enough to perform the dives in the pool.

I competed in both the individual and the synchronised events. So perfecting the dives comes first and then practicing the synchronisation comes second. Diving is a precision sport and requires a high level of consistency to do well – in a competition all of your dives count and it’s the cumulative score – unlike long jump/javelin where you can mess up five and get one right to win!"

[B]Considering when you started out it was pre-lottery funding, what kind of support (financial, medical, coaching, family), did you receive when you were training?[/B]
"I relied heavily on bank of Mum and Dad. It was a really tough time in British sport – I looked into and secured places at US universities as this was one of the few options for someone like me at that time in my career. However, instead I chose to move Sheffield after my A levels and my first Olympic Games and wait for lottery funding to come through. The funding was enough to live on but not to make any money – the biggest benefit was the access to sports science e.g. physiotherapy, psychology, nutrition, biomechanical analysis, strength and conditioning, etc. It also enabled us to attend many more international competitions. British sport started benefitting from lottery funding in 1998 after Team GB came 36th in the medal table at the 1996 Olympics. After 10 years of investment Team GB came fourth in 2008. It’s made a massive difference."

[B]What was your lowest point in your career?[/B]
"At the time finishing an unfair fourth at the 2000 Olympic Games. Diving is a subjective sport and it’s the judges opinions that decide your fate – a bit like the X-Factor! This was tough for me to swallow, especially at an Olympic games. Subsequently, I had two separate lots of reconstructive shoulder surgery on my right shoulder. Both of which took six months to recover, it was the toughest time in my career by far."

[B]How did you get over the disappointment?[/B]
"After the 2000 Olympics I went out and got myself really drunk! (Laughs). I used the disappointment of my fourth place as a my motivation during the four -years of training for the next Olympic Games.

[B]What was the highest point in your career?[/B]
"Winning a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. British diving’s first Olympic medal for 44 years made even sweeter by finishing fourth four years earlier."

[B]What advice would you give to the young aspiring athletes of tomorrow?[/B]
"Find a sport you love and enjoy the rollercoaster. If you really love the sport and you are doing it for yourself then you’re likely to handle the ups and downs. Effort tops talent so once you’ve found your thing; work hard and success will follow."

[B]What if anything, would you change if you had the chance to do it all over again?[/B]
"I would have taken on a tougher challenge – like becoming a BMF instructor! (Laughs again) "

Leon will be providing commentary and post diving analysis for the BBC from 29th July to 11th August. His other role during the Olympics will be as a mentor to the other GB Team divers. Leon has published a book about the role of mentoring and how you can apply the lessons he has learnt to all situations, follow the link below for more information on Leon Taylor and his new book [LINK ""]

[B]I would like to finish off by wishing all the Team GB athletes the best of luck during the Games this summer![/B]

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