A national champion at 15 and a possible Olympics bow next summer, diver Lois Toulson is on the rise. Lee Sobot reports.
LOIS TOULSON, perhaps her city’s hottest emerging sporting talent, feels it’s 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 for the teen star who 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 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 place will arrive in February’s World Cup in Rio – an event the humble Toulson is not even sure she’ll 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 a further six month’s down the line.
Taking 10 minutes out of her schedule at her home in rural Drub in the high hills above Gomersal, Toulson told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “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 –but 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 the meeting we had a bit ago and I think he definitely wants to get Tonia to the Olympics though, because she really deserves it as well.
“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 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 also been training for like nine years so it’s quite a long time.”
Toulson was just seven when encountering her first diving board at Barnsley Metrodome and dad Richard – who runs the family garden tool wholesalers business Artel Ltd with wife Mandy – remembers the moment well.
The diver’s father says Lois, who then lived in Scholes, bravely headed to the end of the top board before chickening out and walking down the stairs again before having a second change of heart and jumping in.
All roads then led to the thriving City Of Leeds Diving Club – where else – and nine years later the Huddersfield-born star is a national champion who proved capable of beating both Couch and former Leeds ace Sarah Barrow at February’s 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.”
“Now I want to try and do more of the senior competitions instead of the junior ones and get more experience at them at the beginning of the year.
“There’s obviously the World Cup at the start of next year as well – in February – and depending on how I do at the nationals before then I might get to go there and dive against the best divers in the world so that will be good if I get to go there.”
Of that there is every chance with Toulson having already competed in Canada, Germany, Poland, Spain, Azerbaijan, Russia, Singapore and Malaysia, juggling around 20 hours a week of training with her GCSE studies in Year 11 at Whitcliffe Mount.
The diving star has one older sister, 18-year-old University of Liverpool criminology student Ellie, but any sisterly catch- ups over the next month will have to be conducted from the UK to Australia with Toulson preparing for a winter training camp alongside five stellar divers from Leeds, with every one of them providing their own inspiration.
From a female perspective, at one end of the spectrum, 19-year-old Alica Blagg made her Olympics debut at the age of 15, while evergreen Becky Gallantree is eyeing her third games aged 31.
“I can’t imagine me being 30 and still diving,” laughs Toulson, who doesn’t turn 17 until next September.
“It seems like a long time away! But Becky is still improving a lot as well even at her age which is amazing.
“She’s got a lot of experience and it’s really good when you get to talk to her.”
Of the boys meanwhile, Chris Mears is an international DJ/Commonwealth Games gold medallist with nearly 100,000 followers on Twitter while Matty Lee – a year older than Toulson – has been named a finalist for the BBC Young Sports Personality Of The Year Award.
And then there is the club’s golden boy of diving Jack Laugher for whom international sporting stardom is leading to advertising fame.
Laugher 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 admits she wouldn’t be averse, eventually, to doing something similar.
“Jack is doing loads of publicity things like he has just done 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 and everything so it would probably be a good thing for to do.
“And obviously to make a bit of money as well!”
Money the youngster could perhaps put towards her other passion. Baking.
The teenager was bitten by The Great British Bake-Off bug and explained: “I have always baked with my grandma and then I just started doing it by myself sometimes. I like eating my baking as well. I eat a lot of food.”
You wouldn’t know it; though baking is an appropriate choice for a diver quickly on the rise.