Cheshire Gold The pressure is building for athletes all across the world at the moment and for Cheshire’s World Champion gymnast Beth Tweddle, it’s no different. Emma Gaffney writes. Photography: Colin Still and Rowena Humphrey
reat Britain’s Olympic team hasn’t even been decided on yet, but that’s not stopped the media pinning Beth as one of our nation’s best chances of winning a medal at the 2012 Olympic Games – but given her track record, that’s no surprise really. Beth’s gymnastics career started almost twenty years ago, when at the age of seven she joined a gymnastics club close to her Bunbury home. The sport clearly came naturally to Beth and it wasn’t long before she was being appointed to the British junior national team.
Since those early days Beth has gone on to be the first Briton to ever win medals in the World and European Championships, is a seven time British National Champion, competed in the 2008 and 2004 Olympics and is the only person in her sport to have been shortlisted for Sports Personality of the Year, placing third. Quite simply, Beth is the most successful gymnast to ever come out of Britain. But she’s a humble world champion who’s certainly aware of the competition ahead of next year’s Olympics. “It’s going to be really hard to make the Olympic Team,” claims Beth. “There are only five places up for grabs, which is one less than last time, and there are about twelve of us contesting for the spots. “Great Britain will be able to put a strong team together and achieving fifth place in this year’s World Championship Team Final proves that Great British gymnastics is on the up in the team rankings.” The recent World Championship competition was a bittersweet event for Beth. The women’s team managed to rank high enough to send five girls to the Olympic Games instead of just one like all non-qualifying countries.
However, Beth failed to defend her title on the uneven bars and placed fifth in the floor event after she landed outside of the
boundary on one of her landings. “If you make a mistake and you are still near the top of the ranking then that is a good sign,” Beth says, defending her performance. “If I went clean and was nowhere near the top rankings then some major changes would have to be done back in the gym. To be at the top of this sport and in medal contention position you have to do risky routines. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. Half of a fraction out and things go wrong.
“Every competition that you do is a stepping-stone towards the next one. You can see where you are placing and if any major changes need to be made or whether it is just minor fine tuning that needs doing.” At the moment Beth’s mind is clearly focused on being a professional gymnast but at 26 she’s old in the competing circuit. “I try not to think about it,” she explains. “I still love the sport and am still making the team so
I ignore the fact I am 26. “It can work two ways. Yes, I am older and it is harder on the body but I also have more experience from different competitions. “I have a really good relationship with my coach. She understands that I can’t do the same training that I used to and my body needs to rest after each major championship.” Despite her focus Beth has been making plans for the future and exploring the world beyond
competing in gymnastics. In 2007 she showed she could juggle being a professional sports person with a student life after graduating from Liverpool John Moores University with a degree in Sports Science. And proving she won’t stop at anything, Beth set up Total Gymnastics in early 2010, which works with recreational level gymnastics and gives children a doorstep opportunity to have a go at the sport. Total Gymnastics aims to introduce professional coaches into schools across the UK, many from the Great British team, introducing children of all abilities to the sport, teaching them the fundamentals, nurturing new talent and having fun while exercising. There are already seven academies operating at schools in Merseyside, and the concept has spread to Essex, Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire. Given her achievement in and around gymnastics it’s no surprise she was awarded an MBE last year.
With the 2012 Olympics being held in London, Beth is even more excited about the event. “It is an honour for any athlete to compete in the Olympics, but to do it on home soil with the support of the home crowd is a massive bonus. I love walking into an arena and seeing all the Union Jacks flying and having so much support behind us. Normally it is just our parents and the rest of the Great British delegation, but in London it will be a whole different matter. I experienced it at the World Championships at the O2 and it was an amazing feeling.” There’s no time to get too excited about the Games just yet, however. “I have a very busy nine months ahead of me,” explains Beth. “At the start of this year there is the European Championships, which has three trials prior to it, and then there will be the Olympics – which will also have three trials to be selected for the team. “Afterwards I will be taking some time with family and friends to chill out, maybe go on holiday.” It’s pretty safe to say she won’t be resting for too long though. Beth might already have a list of achievements longer than herself but there are more ambitions to tick off, starting straight after the Olympics when there’s a university qualification in Physiotherapy to obtain. No, she’s definitely not resting anytime soon. n
Interview with world champion gymnast Beth Tweddle about her sport and competing in the Olympics. Published in Live Cheshire magazine.