Leeds swim star Layla Black ready to take up the baton from trailblazing club-mates

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A RISING star of Leeds swimming, Layla Black admits the posters of her beside the pool at St Wilfrid’s Catholic High School are a tad embarrassing.

The teenager bagged four medals including double gold at this year’s Commonwealth Youth Games and two bronzes at the European Games – feats that her school are proud to celebrate.

Layla Black.

Layla Black.

Yet it’s another set of posters that’s proving the driving force for the 15-year-old who hopes to follow Leeds pool stars such as Sophie Taylor and Alicia Blagg on to the world stage, with Tokyo 2020 picked as the perfect time to blossom.

Whitkirk-based Black has enjoyed a breakthrough 2015 which has helped continue the rise of the City of Leeds Swimming Club.

And the former St Theresa’s Primary pupil’s immediate aim is to follow the lead of club-mate Georgia Coates who this year bagged medals on a world-youth stage, by taking a silver and a bronze at the World Youth Championships.

Black, a year younger, was on a training camp in New Zealand when learning of “G’s” achievements, which provided the ultimate motivation for her to then conquer the upcoming Youth Commonwealths in Samoa.

There’s a friendly, healthy rivalry between the two Leeds teenagers, who hope to emulate the achievements of former Leeds club-mate Taylor, who secured a gold and silver at last year’s Commonwealth Games before moving to London.

In Black and Taylor, the City of Leeds Swimming Club have heirs to the vacant throne.

And now Black is even dreaming of Olympic glories with the John Charles Centre for Sport already responsible for producing an army of athletes at Games level through their hugely successful divers who train at the same venue.

When Black walks into training at 5am every morning there are not just posters of Leeds’ most recent swimming star Taylor on the wall, but also of the likes of diving aces Jack Laugher and Blagg.

And while the Year 11 pupil admits the posters of herself at her school pool may be a tad cringe-worthy for her, there’s no denying her intention to be her city’s next worldwide splash.

Taking 10 minutes out of her schedule at her Whitkirk home as mum Lucie and dad Anthony make the teas before clearing the room, an assured Black told the YEP: “My school is really good for me, my teachers are really supportive and they have a pool at the school and there’s posters of me on the side of the pool.

“They are really embarrassing but it shows that they care.

“But when you walk into the John Charles which is where we train you see all the posters of like Alicia Blagg and Sophie Taylor and even Georgia.

“You think ‘I want to be up there as well and I want to be doing stuff like that’.

“And I just want to go to the world stage next. That would be nice.

“It would be a push to get to the Olympics but I think 2020 is the main aim because I will be 19 then and that’s quite a good age to go the Olympics.

“If I keep going as I am now and keep improving then there’s no reason why I couldn’t go and even in 2024 I’ll be 23 so that’s another one as well.

“To get to the Olympics would be good and I think it would be good for the people around me as well seeing that you can do stuff, that you can get out.

“But then you also have the Commonwealths in 2018 – the senior ones – and that is probably one of my main long-term aims.

“They are in Gold Coast so that will be a good one!”

Before that, Black’s immediate target is next July’s Junior Europeans in Hodmezovasarhely, Hungary, where she hopes to go one better than her feats of this year’s European Games.

All roads then lead to the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia where Black will be looking to emulate the achievements of Taylor four years on.

The two used to train and race each other at the John Charles and while Black only ever saw the back of the Glasgow 2014 hero, that in itself provided the perfect drive to succeed.

Black recalled: “I was 13 or 14 when Sophie won gold at the Commonwealths and I used to train against her so it was really good motivation because she was the top British Swimming breaststroke swimmer and I am a breaststroke swimmer as well.

“We’d race each other and it would be good to see how far I am behind her.

“Sophie was always a bit ahead of me!

“Seeing her win gold at the Commies was good because my coach Richard Denigan was her coach as well. He was good and it kind of gave me confidence as well. We were sad to see her go because we were all really close but it was like someone has got to fill the space and it kind of motivates you to get to that next level which hopefully I can do.”

Brilliantly for Leeds, Coates also seems more than capable of filling that void and Black finds it hard to answer who out of the two is the current Leeds no1.

“Georgia is definitely, probably the main one,” said Black.

“I think so anyway. I don’t know!

“But we do different things so it’s spread out for the top part.

“Georgia got a silver and a bronze at the Junior Worlds and at the time, when she was at worlds, I was in New Zealand for a training camp before Samoa. I came down in the morning and they said Gs just won a silver and a bronze so I thought ‘okay’ and that really motivated me into the Youth Commies to try and get some medals there.

“It’s been a good year! I thought I’d be doing well but not this well and I didn’t expect to be doing the times that I am going.”

Yet expect those times to continue improving with motivation left, right and centre for Black, including in her own household. The teenager’s 13-year-old sister Maisy also swims for Leeds – and sisterly rivalry is rife.

Black explained: “She swims as well and she is on the squad below me in the national age group. I think this year she will be making the nationals – that will be her aim.

“And she thinks that she’s better than me!

“I’m not that good at backstroke so she beats me on it.

“Every time she does I always get a bit of stick from her like ‘I’ve beaten you and I’m only 13 ...’.”