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Page last updated at 16:27 GMT, Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Diving's battle of the ages

By Caroline Cheese and Mark Ashenden

Tom Daley (left) and Leon Taylor
Daley (left) beat his mentor Taylor at a Montreal event in December
British diving legend Leon Taylor is briefly at a loss for words.

The Olympic silver-medallist is trying to explain what it felt like to lose a diving competition to a 13-year-old boy to whom he acts as a mentor.

"Yeah," he says, laughing. "You're not meant to lose to your mentee are you? Let's just say that won't happen again."

The surprise result came in December when Tom Daley, a schoolboy from Plymouth, and synchronised diving partner Blake Aldridge pushed Taylor and Peter Waterfield into second at a meet in Montreal.

But Daley is far from being an ordinary schoolboy. He is regarded as one of Britain's best hopes for gold at the 2012 Olympics and became England's youngest national champion when he claimed the senior platform title at the ASA Championships.

His exploits in 2007 earned him the BBC Young Sports Personality of the Year award, following in the footsteps of Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott and Andy Murray.

He's a fantastic competitor but such a humble young boy. To see him coming through and taking it to the next level is just great

I phone and text him a lot. He's a very understanding person - he's a good listener and gives good advice. I have a lot of respect for his competitive drive and how he deals with the bad times

Of his first meeting with Daley, Taylor says: "He had that something about him. I'm not even going to try and define it. Let's call it an X-factor.

"There was just a glint in his eye when I talked to him. He's such a nice guy too.

"Sometimes when you get successful at a young age - and I've seen it in some athletes - it goes to your head and you become a bit of an idiot.

"Tom's got a good head on his shoulders and I was really impressed by that."

Daley, in turn, describes Taylor as a diving "god" although he admits he views his mentor differently now the pair have become rivals as well as friends.

"I first met him at the Olympic trials in 2004 when I was running around getting people to sign my calendar," he said.

"I thought he was God, the way he dived. Now he's a competitor, he's someone I look up to but in a different kind of way."

This year, Daley is widely expected to become Britain's youngest ever Olympian at the Beijing Games - and now Taylor finds his own Olympic hopes resting on Daley's young shoulders.

The 30-year-old, who will retire after the 2008 Games, should be going up against his young rival once again this weekend for the right to represent Britain at an Olympic qualification event in Beijing in February.

Instead, he is preparing to travel to Germany for surgery on a hernia problem on 15 January.

That means that Daley and Aldridge will now go to Beijing where they will be charged with ensuring Britain has a place in the 10m synchronised event at which Taylor and Waterfield won silver in 2004.

"There are no guarantees - no matter who you are," says Taylor, who is based in Sheffield.

"They beat Peter and I which is a great achievement and in doing that, they also beat the Americans and the Cubans who were third and fourth respectively at the World Championships last year. They're a fantastic combination - but it's all about doing it on the day."

But fate will have dealt a very cruel blow if Taylor is denied a glorious swansong in Beijing.

Since he and Waterfield claimed silver on the opening day of the Athens Games, Taylor has undergone four bouts of shoulder surgery, then suffered a back problem before his most recent hernia trouble.

Peter Waterfield (left) and Leon Taylor win silver at the 2004 Olympics
Waterfield (left) and Taylor won Britain's first medal in Athens
"It's par for the course," says Taylor.

"The platform event is that punishing on the body that you don't see many people in their late 20s in the event because hitting the water at 40mph isn't good for your body."

Taylor will be operated on by Dr Ulrike Muschaweck - who counts Michael Owen and Alan Shearer as her former clients - and providing there are no further complications, the 30-year-old expects to go head-to-head with Daley in June when qualification for the Olympics will be decided.

He does not expect a repeat of events in Montreal - although regardless of what happens in the synchronised, Daley should qualify for the Games individually.

"That was the first time I've been beaten in a synchronised diving event by another British pair so it was definitely a shock," he says.

"But if you look at it statistically, Pete and I weren't at our best. At our best, we are still a little bit above them but it's so good to have someone really challenging us domestically.

"I can't wait to take the challenge of competing against him again."

Leon Taylor is among the British athletes who BBC Sport will be following during the countdown to Beijing, while Olympic Dreams will be following Tom Daley.

see also
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Swimming on the BBC
02 Oct 07 |  Swimming
Injured Taylor out of nationals
02 Jan 08 |  Swimming
Olympic Dreams - Tom Daley
03 Oct 07 |  London 2012
Owen surgeon gives England boost
01 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Taylor's hopes thwarted by injury
20 Mar 07 |  Swimming
Taylor makes successful return
16 Dec 06 |  Swimming
Relieved Taylor returns to action
14 Dec 06 |  Swimming
Taylor undergoes shoulder surgery
22 Jun 06 |  Swimming
Diver Taylor pulls out of Games
20 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
British divers take silver
14 Aug 04 |  Swimming

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