Michael Tayler competed in the first World Cups of his career in June and will now head to sport’s biggest stage in London. Photo: Tim Cutts
By Ian Ewing
Name: MICHAEL TAYLER
Sport: CANOE SLALOM
Event: SINGLE KAYAK
Associations: OTTAWA RIVER RUNNERS, CARLETON UNIVERSITY
Previous Olympics: FIRST
It wasn’t until he arrived in London for the first time that it really sunk in for Michael Tayler: he’s going to the Olympics.
“It definitely took a while,” Tayler laughs. “I got there for the first training camp, and it started to seem real.”
The whitewater kayaker beat out Canadian heavyweights like John Hastings and five-time Olympian David Ford in April for a berth to London. Since then, it’s been a busy schedule travelling to train on the actual Olympic course in London, attending a pair of World Cup races elsewhere in Europe, and getting used to a new boat.
And getting laser eye surgery.
Less than a month after winning the lone Canadian K1 slalom position, the Carleton University student took a week off from training to have the surgery and recover. Although he’d worn contact lenses for years while paddling, it was never ideal. And at his first training session in London, he had a lot of problems with his lenses.
“There’s more waves and more features than normal, so it was especially difficult there,” he describes. “I kept getting hit in the face with water. It was a struggle for me.”
After talking to his coach, they agreed that getting the procedure done would be worth it in the long run, in spite of the time off from training. Now, he says, it’s made it much easier.
Since recovering, he’s been over to London twice more to practice on the Olympic course. But he hasn’t seen much of the city yet.
“I’ve been trying to spend as much time as possible on the water. It’s important to learn the course and learn the water,” affirms the Nepean High School grad. “The focus is trying to make London feel as much like a home course as possible.”
Tayler mentions that it’s one of the most difficult courses he’s been on. But it’s also one of the best-designed.
“And,” he grins, “it’s fun to paddle. It’s pretty much perfect.”
Kayaking for 12 years now, Tayler has been training for competition since 2003. Last year, he narrowly missed selection to the national team. In two of his four runs on the last day, he finished second, to Ford both times, only because of penalties. Tayler says that experience, coming so close, let him know that he was capable of performing at that level.
In April this year, his only goal was to make the national ‘A’ team. But after posting the best time during the first run at the Olympic trials this year – his first win at that level – he knew he had a shot to win it.
“Still,” he says, “it was definitely a bit of a shock to see my name on the top (after the final run). I was pretty stunned in those 10 minutes afterwards.”
In the wake of his win and automatic selection to the Olympic team, friend and training partner Hastings had nothing but good things to say about the man who beat him by 0.11 seconds to take the victory.
“The protégé becomes the master,” he tweeted immediately afterwards.
“It was always his dream to race at the Olympics too,” Tayler says of Hastings. “I was always sort of chasing him. He’s been amazing; so supportive.”
After missing the semi-final round by less than two-tenths of a second at his last World Cup stop in Spain late last month, Tayler thinks semis are within his reach for London, and from there, who knows.
“It’s the nature of the course. It’s so difficult, that really anything could happen. It’s such an unpredictable sport,” explains the young star who could have several more Olympics in his future. “This is a really good way to start a career.”
Sunday, July 29
Men’s K-1 heats, 8:24 a.m. ET
Wednesday, Aug. 1
Men’s k-1 semis, 7:30 a.m. ET
Men’s k-1 final, 9:15 a.m. ET