Tayla blazing trail for Turkish swimming
Series on Olympic Scholarship Holders, Beijing 2008. Today: Kaan Tayla.
If you’re wondering when was the last time Turkey won an Olympic swimming medal you’re asking the wrong question. The right question is, has a swimmer from Turkey ever reached an Olympic semi-final? The answer is no. In Athens, Kaan Tayla, then just 18, went out in the preliminary rounds of the 50 and 100 metres freestyle. Four years on, he plans on reaching a final and then, as he says, “who knows?”
Pool in the school
Swimming is not big in Turkey. As recently as 2005 in Istanbul, the world’s third largest city, there were just two public swimming pools. Tayla grew up in the capital city, Ankara, where state facilities were no better, but fortunately for him, and for Turkish swimming, he went to a private school. “We had a pool in the school,” Tayla explains. “I don’t think I would be a swimmer if we hadn’t.”
Fencing and chess
By rights, he should have been a fencer like his grandfather, and like his father who represented Turkey at the 1972 Olympic Games. “They tried to turn me into a fencer,” said Tayla, who played a lot of chess before taking up swimming. “I wanted to move more into the physical sports rather than the mental ones. I was 15 years old when I started swimming competitively, and I was 15 when I quit chess!”
“Best shape of my life”
The last Olympics were a steep learning curve for Tayla, who has since been studying computer engineering and training twice daily on a Solidarity scholarship in the United States, where he’s been breaking collegiate and Turkish national records for fun. “I’ve improved my swimming a lot since I’ve been here, and I’m in the best shape of my life,” he said.
The great Alexander Popov is his idol. “Even though he was at the top for 10 years, whenever he won he was never arrogant; he was always modest. I try to be like that. In swimming I like the racing side of it. If I’m in really good shape and I lose then sometimes I can get angry. But you can’t win every time. Sport is about winning and losing.”
For the Beijing Olympic Games, Olympic Solidarity awarded a total of 1,088 scholarships to 166 National Olympic Committees in 21 individual Olympic sports.
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