The year ahead holds myriad opportunities for Gomersal diver Lois Toulson, but as much as medals and accolades are the target, the discovery of a new partner could hold the key to her f uture.
For as much as a Commonwealth Games in Australia excites her, and the chance to defend her European title in Glasgow motivates her, Toulson wants 2018 to be about finding a new synchro team-mate to share the 10m platform with.
Much of the Cleckheaton teenager’s diving career to date has been done in tandem with another brave soul who thinks nothing of somersaulting backwards off diving’s high board.
That person for much of the 18-year-old’s career has been Tonia Couch, 10 years Toulson’s senior and one of the most recognisable faces in British diving after three Olympic Games and a multitude of world championship appearances.
But Couch’s retirement just two months ago has left Toulson to plough a lone furrow in what is a busy year in the mid-point of the Olympic cycle.
Not that she is adverse to standing alone on the 10m board – she surprised even herself by winning the European individual title in a breakthrough 2017 – but by her own admission, the synchro is the discipline that gives her greater satisfaction.
“Tonia played quite a big role in my career – I shared my first Olympics with her in Rio and we had an amazing bond,” said Toulson. “She was lik my big sister, and that really helped when it came to my diving.
“I knew she was thinking about retirement, she’s got her whole life down in Plymouth.
“But trying to find a new synchro partner has been difficult.”
If she could hand-pick a new partner, Toulson knows exactly the traits required, but the decision will be made by British Diving as they look to maximise the Yorkshire girl’s potential by putting the best two divers together. As her first alliance proved, a synchro partnership does not have to train together in the same venue, for as state-of-the-art as the John Charles Centre is where Toulson and the City of Leeds Diving Club train, Couch spent her days practicing 320 miles away in Plymouth.
“British Diving will look for a bit of everything, but at the end of the day it’s how you alone perform,” added Toulson.
“Your dives need to look good together, you need to be in sync and you need to have similar aspects to your diving – so it’s not an easy mix to put together and not something that can be rushed.”
The comfort she derives from a partnership is obvious. Last year at the World Championships in Budapest, she and club-mate Matty Lee won a surprise silver medal in the mixed 10m synchro, reinforcing her confidence in having someone to share the highs and lows with.
“I loved doing the mixed synchro with Matty, it made me feel really confident and made me feel at home,” said Toulson, who despite having been competing internationally for a few years, is still studying for her A-levels and only recently passed her driving test.
She added: “Mentally having someone else there with you helps me keep on top of my nerves.
“But I’ve got to get used to both if I want to succeed.”
To that end, 2018 will be a key development year as she looks to maintain her own personal standards in the 10m individual event until a new partnership is formed.
The year begins this weekend in Plymouth with the British Championships, an event that doubles up as a trial for the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast in April.
After hopefully competing at that, there is the small matter of defending her European title in Glasgow in August.
“I was hoping for a medal in Kiev (last year) but I never thought that gold would come my way,” recalled Toulson of her European title.
“Especially after my prelim round when I had a really rocky time. I had to put that behind me quickly and start my day fresh, and I managed to put all my dives down for a good score.
“It was also my first individual competition for about two years so I was really nervous going into it, which made getting the gold an even bigger positive.
“Looking ahead, I’ve got to focus on myself and focus on the individual events, but it’s in the back of my mind that I need to find somebody quickly.”