The name Beth Tweddle may not instinctively roll of the tongue of followers of mainstream Sport. Mind you, neither would gymnastics. Despite a injury prone career, Tweddle has constantly defied the odds and proved all her critics wrong. At the age of 24, and OAP in gymnastic years, Tweddle has gone where no British female gymnast has gone before, winning numerous British, World and European titles and crowning it all with an MBE. The only major accolade to elude her during a remarkable career is an Olympic medal. With London 2012 just over the horizon, a medal of any colour in her home country would cap of the perfect finish to a sparkling career. Here Tweddle reflects on her remarkable path to stardom, how she’s helping to inspire the next generation of gymnasts and what the future holds for both her and British gymnastics.
AK: Gymnastics wasn’t your first passion so when did your love for gymnastics first start off?
BT: I was a very hyper-active kid. I tried all sorts of sports ballet, swimming and one of my dad’s friends took me along to the local gymnastics club and I absolutely hated it. It was only when I did my first competition that I realised that this was the stage I wanted to be on and I never looked back after that.
AK: If you’re going to be really critical of yourself where would you say your weakness lies? Would you say you’re weaker on the floor than on the bar?
BT: I think the artistry on the floor. I’m not the best dancer in the world! I know that and I think the judges know that so I have to work harder on the skills and the leaps to cover it up!
AK: A lot has been talked about regarding your age. You’ll be twenty-seven when you appear in London. Is age a barrier in gymnastics?
BT: It can be if you let it be. I think the main thing is I’m clever with my training and I work closely with my trainer and physios. After every major international I get time off to let my body recover and when I’m training for the events I don’t necessarily do the same sort of training as what I did when I was fifteen or sixteen. I just believe that with age comes experience and hopefully I can take that experience away and use it to my advantage.
AK: Do you still feel that there’s quite a lot of pressure on you given that you’re the stand out figure in British gymnastics?
BT: I think obviously gymnastics is seen as a little girls sport and every parent wants to put their little girl into gymnastics. Hopefully by having the likes of Lewis Smith who won Olympic Bronze and Dan Keatings who won a silver at the World Championships last year and was recently crowned European champion, hopefully little boys can look up to them and have a role model now. Their profiles are only just starting to build whereas my profile has been around for a while. Hopefully they’ll help to spur on the younger kids to get involved and not just go down to the local football pitch!
AK: Do you think the future is a bright one for gymnastics in this country?
BT: Definitely. I mean our Romanian coach was there at the weekend when we won team silver and it was the first time we’d ever come above sixth so to win a silver medal was a massive achievement for British gymnastics both on the girls and boys side. [Our coach] was so emotional. He said ‘I’ve waited eighteen years for this results and its finally come.’ A lot of people gave him stick over the years saying ‘You’ve not got the results, you’ve not got the results,’ and he was saying ‘It takes time, it takes time.’ Obviously he spotted us when we were tiny tots and it’s taken that ten to twenty years to come through and finally it has started to come through.
AK: If we look past London 2012, you’ve talked about working in schools and local communities in trying to promote, amongst other sports, gymnastics, how important do you think it is to give kids, especially those from deprived backgrounds, that opportunity to do something with their lives?
BT: It’s a massive thing. Sport for me has given me passion in my life. For me it has kept me off the streets and it has given me something to aim towards and if I can give one child that opportunity then I’ve done my job. Kids get such a bad reputation these days but at the end of the day I don’t think they’re bad kinds – they’re no different to what were as youngsters […] That’s why I’ve set these academies up in the deprived area of Liverpool. It gives them the opportunity to have a go at gymnastics. They might find that they absolutely hate it but at least at the end of the day they’ve given it a go. […] When the Olympics come in 2012 I think a lot of the lower profile sports, whether it’s Judo, Fencing or Volleyball, a lot of people will start to pick up on them and maybe start having a go at them. The uptake on gymnastics always goes over the wall when the Olympics comes. Every parent wants to take their kid to gymnastics because it’s on the TV so much! So hopefully we’ll have the same effect with the Olympics in 2012.
With further funding set to be pumped into the sport and with such wonderful ambassadors as Beth Tweddle, there’s no doubt that the future for British gymnastics looks like being a bright one. Here success in a sport which has gradually come to occupy a soft spot in the hearts of the British people is really testament to Tweddle’s highly admirable passion, enthusiasm and determination for a sport she could not live without.