LOIS TOULSON, one of Yorkshire’s hottest emerging sporting talents, feels it is important to thrive at an early age as a diver.
Becoming a national champion aged 15 is not a bad start. A first Olympics as a 16-year-old could follow and she admits: “You’ve got to get in there while you’re young!”
Year 11 Whitcliffe Mount pupil Toulson is the latest gem to be unearthed at the all-conquering City Of Leeds Diving Club, who believes the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will provide her optimum opportunity to shine.
Yet February’s securing of the national 10m platform title and this summer’s European Games gold medal illustrates Toulson is also a diver for the here and now, who could yet board the plane to South America next year.
Team GB can take a maximum of two divers to the Rio Olympics women’s 10m platform event and 26-year-old two-time Olympian Tonia Couch has already qualified for one spot.
The last chance to seal a second qualification spot will arrive in February’s World Cup in Rio – an event Toulson is not even sure she will be competing in. Yet if next Spring is anything like this year’s the teenager might not only grace next February’s event in South America but also the year’s biggest stage of all in a further six months’ time.
Taking 10 minutes out of her schedule at her home in rural Drub in the high hills above Gomersal, Toulson said: “The Olympics is the ultimate competition that’s against the best in the world and it only comes around every four years.
“2020 will definitely be more like my focus but then next year could also happen and that would be really good if it did – any of them would be good!
“We have to qualify spots for the event and we have only got one at the moment which Tonia got at the world champs. At the start of next year at the World Cup it will be decided if we get another spot or not and two is the most you can get.
“Alexei Evangulov (British Diving’s performance director) was talking to me at a meeting a bit ago and I think he definitely wants to get Tonia to the Olympics as she really deserves it.
“It’s probably more towards Tonia but if there’s a second spot it’s probably a bit more open and I definitely would like to go because it would be amazing and a good experience.
“Tonia has been there a long time and she has got a lot of experience already and is probably the more reliable person to go. I do get very nervous before my competitions but I’ve got a routine that helps calm me down and stuff.
“Diving is like a young sport as well so you have to kind of get in while you’re young before you get too old! I’ve been training for something like nine years so it’s quite a long time.”
Toulson was just seven when encountering her first diving board at Barnsley Metrodome. Nine years later, the Huddersfield-born star is a national champion who proved capable of beating both Couch and former Leeds-based star Sarah Barrow at the nationals.
The diver also won the 10m individual platform event at this summer’s European Games in Baku with February’s nationals proving an indication of what was to come.
“It was amazing and I wasn’t expecting it at all because I have always looked up at Tonia and Sarah because they are really good divers,” said Toulson, who is coached by former Chinese diver Peng Li. “Tonia and Sarah have been to so many different places and Tonia has been to two Olympics as well so it was amazing that I was able to dive against them and beat them as well.
“I definitely didn’t expect it at the start of the year and Baku was also a really good experience. It was the first competition I had done which was multi-sports with more like a Games style feeling.”
It means Toulson is now attempting to prepare herself for life in the sporting public eye.
The teenager jetted off for a training camp in Australia this week with five Leeds team-mates, including Yorkshire’s golden boy of diving, Jack Laugher.
He has recently been part of an advertising campaign for supermarket chain Aldi and while Toulson is still becoming accustomed to the media spotlight the teenager would not be averse, one day, to doing something similar.
“Jack is doing loads of publicity things like he has just done with Aldi, which is amazing,” said Toulson.
“He’s really well known and I can’t imagine me being like that but it’s good to get the sport recognised so it would probably be a good thing for me to do. Plus it would obviously make me a bit of money as well!”