Mon, September 23, 2013

Kayaker Tayler sets Olympic course

By AEDEN HELMER, QMI Agency


Michael Tayler kayaks in Ottawa, Ont., July 12, 2012. (TONY CALDWELL/QMI Agency)

OTTAWA - The last few months have been a bit of a whirlwind for Michael Tayler, the 20-year-old slalom kayaker who will don Canada’s colours in London.

“It kinda feels like I skipped two steps ahead,” said Tayler. “I always did imagine myself being where I am when I was younger, and it’s such an incredible feeling to have all your dreams realized so suddenly.”

Something happening so suddenly is par for the course in a sport where every mistake is measured in milliseconds, and a slim fraction can be the difference between a podium finish and an also-ran.

In Tayler’s case, it was a margin of 0.11 seconds that made the difference between a trip to London and dangling the Olympic carrot through four more years of rigorous training.

At the Olympic qualifier in Charlotte, N.C., in April, Tayler edged out veteran favourites David Ford and his good friend and fellow Ottawa River Runner John Hastings, the 2008 national champion, by the slimmest of margins for Canada’s sole kayak spot.

Four years ago, Tayler, a 16-year-old junior team standout, shot the same course for Canada’s 2008 Olympic entry.

“I went more for the experience, but I started counting the years (to the next Olympic qualifier),” said Tayler. “Sixteen-year-old me figured by the time I’m 20, I’ll be top dog. But the reality was it wasn’t easy, and as I got older and it got closer, you become less sure.”

Tayler said “there was definitely a bit of deja vu” when he lined up against the same athletes in April, and when he won the first race, “I think it was definitely a surprise for most of the paddling community.”

He struggled through the next two runs, but pulled off the run of his life in the final race.

Then, he sat and waited.

“There was a point where I couldn’t watch, I turned my back away from the scoreboard and the sound of everyone cheering was what alerted me. They threw me up in the air, and that was how I found out.”

Tayler has been to London three times since April to train on the Olympic course.

“It’s big and it’s difficult, but it’s also a lot of fun and there’s room to experiment. It really fits with my style as a very quick and dynamic paddler.”

Now Tayler is facing a new kind of pressure with the weight of a nation’s hopes on his shoulders, though for Tayler, handling pressure is nothing new.

“It’s a sport of hundredths of seconds, and if you make a mistake you need to stay on track. The paddlers that win races are the ones who can stay mentally cool,” he said. “The mental side is really just as important as the technical and physical aspects of it.”

So, how does Hastings — who Tweeted “The protege becomes the master” when Tayler edged him for the Olympic spot in April — really feel about his success?

“He’s really embracing his role, and passing his experience on to me,” said Tayler. “He really wants me to succeed. I know that it was his dream to represent Canada, but I think if it was anyone other than him, he’s happy that it’s me.”

aedan.helmer@sunmedia.ca