Lois Toulson interview: Paris 2024 medal hopeful on life with Jack Laugher, parnership with Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix and diving off the 10m platform
Not only that, it is one of the 24-year-old’s favourite dives – and she’s damn good at it as well, second best in the world when she has someone mirroring the routine from the high dive platform.
“It is one of my favourite dives in training but in competition it’s quite hard,” she accepts of something 99.9 per cent of the population could never countenance attempting.
“When your heart’s going mad, you’re a bit shaky and trying to do a handstand, it is quite tense.
“But the actual dive I quite enjoy.
“It’s all about reps and practicing it over and over again so that when you come to a competition and you do feel that extra bit shaky that you can still know what you’re doing; that’s what I’ve had to work on in the past.
“The first time I did it I fell over. I had to learn to control the nerves and work through it.”
Toulson is not like the rest of us, clearly. She is an adrenaline junkie, has been from a very young age.
In diving there are two Olympic heights, 3m springboard that her boyfriend and City of Leeds team-mate Jack Laugher is a multiple Olympic medallist at, and the 10m platform.
She could have chosen the lower height to limit the damage to her body in the event of a dive going wrong, but when it came to the crunch there was only one option for a Whitcliffe Mount School pupil in Cleckheaton who was first diving aged seven, and taking it seriously aged 12.
“It feels like a long time ago but I think it was because 10m was the one I was better at, not necessarily that I chose it.
“I’ve always been pingy, I can spin fast and jump quite high, so that’s always played more to the platform side.
“It’s who I am, I’ve always been into adrenaline and feeling that rush.
“The mix of those two led me towards platform and it turns out I was alright at it.”
So ‘alright’ in fact that her first major event as a senior diver was the Rio Olympics just a month shy of her 17th birthday.
Together with Tonia Couch, 10 years her senior and at the opposite end of her career, they finished fifth in the 10m synchro.
“I remember the green pool,” she smiles when looking back at the bizarre scene she had to peer down at from the top platform.
“The Olympics was my first ever major event, I’d not done a world champs or a Commonwealth Games so it was quite strange, and at the same time it was good that I was… not naive… but to me it was just another competition.
“Whereas now I’m working towards it and there’s so much behind the scenes that I’m aware of, back then it was just a case of let’s go to this pretty cool competition.
“Tonia was like a big sister to me. It was a different kind of partnership with such an age gap but it really worked and definitely helped me gain that experience.
“She was excellent in guiding me through that whole Olympics and the few years after helping me get used to that kind of environment.”
Seven years on, and with another Olympics under her belt, Toulson is now the senior figure in a women’s 10m synchro partnership with 19-year-old Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix that Team GB has high medal hopes for in Paris.
The dynamic has changed a little over the years.
A thrill-seeker in the day job, Toulson is no wild extrovert away from the pool, nor is she someone who will impose her will on a team-mate, as she herself admits she needed from Couch.
“Andrea is definitely her own person, has her own values,” says Toulson of a 19-year-old partner who lives and trains in London.
“She’s a strong personality whereas when I was younger I was very quiet and timid, so I needed that guidance, whereas Andrea is head-strong and knows what she wants.
“I think that’s why we make a good partnership.”
Good enough for silver at the world championships in Fukuoku, Japan, this summer.
“As divers we are quite different, but we match each other quite well. Some of the things that I do will help her and vice-versa,” Toulson tells The Yorkshire Post from the side of the pool at the John Charles Aquatics Centre.
“I think we’ve got a good relationship and it has been showing in our diving.
“Even though I’m one of the older ones now which always feels weird, you feel like you’re learning things that will help you at different competitions.
“It was nice to have all the hard work in training backed up by results.”
Toulson is certainly a hard worker.
She spends upwards of 30 hours a week at the John Charles in Leeds, the same pool she has been diving into since before her teenage years.
Where her partner Laugher and the athletes that came before her in the London cycle were renowned for doing schoolwork on their flights to far-flung major competition destinations, Toulson put diving first from a young age and hopes that sacrifice will reap dividends in Paris next year.
In winning silver at the world championships, she and Spendolini-Sirieix have guaranteed Great Britain a spot at the Games and there is very little emerging British talent to take that spot away from them.
“Not many girls want to dive off a 10m platform,” she says, alluding to her nerves of steel.
Her career is littered with medals at all the major championships bar the Olympics. Most of them are silver and bronze – “I’d hate to sit here and say I never aim for the top, but it is hard in women’s diving, the Chinese are pretty untouchable, they’re finishing 100 points plus above the rest of the field.
“Being up with them in the top two or three is amazing. I never look at it as disheartening, it’s always a case of proud to be up there with them.”
And all successes and failures are shared with boyfriend Jack, one of Yorkshire’s most distinguished Olympians, who despite never having the fame of Tom Daley, has the better medal collection.
“Jack’s got all his medals up on the wall, I still need to put some of mine up,” says Toulson. “It is good having someone so close who has all that experience, has seen the success of it as well.
“Especially when we’re away at competitions when you can be away from home for months at a time and you’ve got someone who knows and cares about you but can also guide you a little bit.
“He’s a good sounding board for me but also vice versa, he has obviously got a lot of stuff to his name, it’s nice for him having a different point of view and somebody who understands what you go through day in, day out. Diving is a niche sport and the whole environment can be quite intense. Having someone that you can speak to about it does help.
“But we manage to balance it, we can tell if one of us needs to talk about it or whether we just need to leave it alone. When we’re at home we try not to be so diving focused, which is nice.”
Ahead of Rio, Jack and his then housemate and 3m synchro partner Chris Mears had an empty frame on the wall in which they planned to put their gold medals should they win the title.
The inspiration worked as they became Britain’s first ever Olympic diving champions.
There is no such gimmick two Games cycles on.
Toulson, for her part, is more mature of an athlete than the greenhorn who went to Brazil.
She will prioritise the 10m synchro with Spendolini-Sirieix in Paris but will also contest the 10m individual, and if all goes well, she will look to carry on to Los Angeles in 2028.
“I’m not the type of person to put an end date on something. Just see how I feel physically and mentally,” says Toulson, who finished seventh in Tokyo in the synchro alongside Eden Cheng.
“I’m feeling pretty strong. If Paris does go well I don’t see why I’d want to stop.
“I’d definitely say I’m approaching my peak, age-wise you’d have probably said Tokyo but I definitely wasn’t in the best place overall, physically and mentally, with the pandemic and the training leading up to it.
“It does have an effect on the mental side as well.
“Now having worked through that and a good block of training, I definitely feel as good as I ever have.”
That includes when she stands on her hands 10 metres above the water.