Up there amongst the best feel-good stories in Australian sport this year, 19-year-old Kai Taylor reproduced the heroics of his mother and former Olympian Hayley Lewis by winning the men’s 200m freestyle trials in Melbourne on Wednesday.
32 years after Lewis won the same event at the tender age of 16 which saw her defeat American legend, Janet Evans, Taylor conquered his own underdog story to claim victory as an outsider in lane eight.
As a result, he qualifies for the FINA World Aquatics Championships in Japan later next month, where a massive opportunity looms.
Tears of joy were unconfined throughout the family when the race ended, but that wasn’t before enduring tears of disappointment in the lead-up to the trials.
A quick change of fortune allowed Taylor to be handed a spot in the qualifying final due to fellow Aussie Kyle Chalmers pulling out of the event.
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Fronting the media at the Melbourne Sports & Aquatic Centre, Taylor and Lewis opened up on the mixed emotions they experienced.
“It was the emotion of the whole day, to be honest, with Kai missing out on the final. Getting in the car, there were some tears and he admitted that himself,” Lewis told the media.
“To be a parent and not be able to take that heartache away from your child is horrible, but then within a split second we knew Kai was going to be in the final so it was a whole range of emotions.”
Taylor echoed that reflection from his mother, as well as recounting the viral video that circulated involving Lewis frantically celebrating in the stands during the race.
“Mum absolutely loves me to death and she just wants me to do my very best, so I think there were a lot of emotions coming out at once.”
For Hayley’s son, having a close role model and mentor in the family has benefited Kai during his early progress.
“Seeing what mum achieved throughout her whole career and seeing all the amazing things she’s done, I think it’s one of those things that I saw and just thought I want to be exactly like mum,” he said.
With different generations come different advancements attached to enhancing performance at the highest level, an area the former Olympic and Commonwealth medalist believes will give Taylor an advantage she wished was available to herself.
“The support staff that Kai has as a swimmer is absolutely phenomenal from the exercise, physiologists, dieticians, psychologists…I didn’t have anything like that.
“The fact that Kai is a sprinter, I’m so grateful for. He doesn’t have to swim and spend as much time in the water as I had to.”
Despite winning the same event over three decades apart, Lewis reiterated that their paths are very different.
“To be honest, Kai’s had a different journey. I was good when I was very young, whereas Kai has been chipping away at where he is now.
“Fortunately, he’s found a passion for swimming at an older age which is a lot better for your mental health [and] he’s got a lot more maturity,” Lewis explained.
Coming off an impressive achievement, what does the future hold for the new star of Australian swimming?
“[For my] short-term goals obviously just being at the worlds [championships] this year. I want to do well over there and swim well, especially in those relays.” Taylor said.
“In terms of long-term goals next year, making that Olympic team is definitely my biggest goal. I’ve wanted to be on that Olympic team for as long as I can remember.”
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