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Beth Tweddle must compete at London 2012

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Ollie Williams | 23:26 UK time, Sunday, 18 October 2009

It didn't take long.

At the press conference staged to hail the best floor gymnast in the world, Beth Tweddle showed that when it comes to the age-old question about London 2012, her forward defensive is pretty handy too.

"Three years is a long time away, we'll have to take one step at a time and see if I'm there," she told the assembled reporters.

I don't buy a word of that. The only thought going through her head right now must be how it felt, lifting that gold medal in front of thousands of her own fans, in her own capital city.

Tweddle may be 24 - all but pensionable in gymnastics terms - but she can win at the London Olympics, and one little chink in the armour emerged after Sunday's drama which shows she wants it badly enough to push on.

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Speaking after her monumental, gold medal-winning routine on the floor, she was discussing something completely different - the provision of gymnastics facilities in the UK - when she threw in a telling aside.

"There are a lot of kids out there who want to do gymnastics," she said. "We just need more facilities because somewhere out there are the stars of 2016 and beyond.

"But they can't have 2012, because that's my spot."

Tacked innocuously on the end of her answer, a moment of lucidity which cuts through all that stuff and nonsense about wait-and-see.

Of course, she's right to say those things. Very sensible. Very reasonable. But inside her mind will be the dream of playing out Sunday's events one more time, in an Olympic setting.

"Beth's an old lady in gymnastics terms - she describes herself as an OAP," her mother, Ann, told me. "But she's enjoying it so much, and while the body is still going strong, she might as well carry on.

"She's driven, and she wants to do this, so she'll carry on for as long as she wants to. I hope she makes it to 2012."

tweddleflag595getty.jpg Tweddle celebrates after her victory - will similar scenes be repeated in three years time?

But if anybody is going to give me an objective verdict on Tweddle's future, it is Colin Still.

Still, the coach of the British women's team, has enjoyed the luxury of watching from the stands as his charges work with their individual coaches, since there has been no team competition at this year's Worlds.

He has been doing his job for long enough to be surprised by few things, but Tweddle's longevity is one of them.

"She could go to 26 or 27 and reach 2012, no problem," Still confidently asserted when we spoke. "But that's unusual. Most female gymnasts retire at 22, maximum.

"Nobody in Great Britain has gone on as long as Beth before, and it's unlikely many will in the future because the sport is so demanding."

Still believes a decision facing Tweddle in 12 months' time will prove the ultimate Beth barometer.

"In October 2010, does she take the easy option of the Commonwealth Games, or the harder option of the World Championships?

"Once she makes that decision, if she goes for the Commonwealth Games, then her realistic chance of 2012 starts to disappear.

"But at this point in time I think she's on track for the Worlds, and therefore 2012."

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For almost a decade, Tweddle's name has been associated with the pinnacle of gymnastics in Britain, an association she reinforced in style on Sunday, just as it was looking like Daniel Keatings might syphon off precious column inches.

But Tweddle's role at 2012 doesn't have to be the burdensome one of shouldering the British team's medal hopes, as it has been at Olympic Games past.

Louis Smith proved as much last year, Keatings has shown his potential, and Still has earmarked at least three young women he believes can inherit Tweddle's starring role.

"Becky Downie is British champion and she thinks she's going to be the next one to lead the country - maybe into 2012," said Still.

"But there's Hannah Whelan, sitting in Liverpool and coached by Amanda Kirby, who coaches Beth, and she's in the wings waiting to go.

"Then there are two youngsters coming up from Heathrow, Danusia Francis and Nicole Hibbert, who will reach the senior ranks next year at the right age, with the right experience.

"At the moment, the public haven't heard of these gymnasts, but they're waiting for the 2010 World Championships to launch their careers and they should be there in London."

Whelan, 17, was in the O2 Arena on Sunday to watch her friend and training partner become a world champion. When I asked her about Tweddle and 2012, she dutifully trotted out the "Beth's taking it year by year" line, then demonstrated the phenomenon is contagious.

"I hope to be at 2012. It would be great if I could get there and have the chance to do it again," she said, alluding to her appearance in the British team at Beijing 2008 - not one many outside gymnastics would be able to recall.

"I'm not really thinking about it too much right now," she added. "My coaches already know it's what I want and we're taking it step by step."

It must be a gymnastics thing. It's impossible to play a long game when the nature of the sport demands you put your body through twists, turns, flips and falls that strain every fibre.

But, riding the wave of optimism Britain's gymnasts amplified at the Worlds this week, a 2012 line-up with Tweddle, Smith, Keatings and Downie alongside a host of the next generation's brightest sparks is irresistible.

It has to happen, doesn't it? Go on, Beth.


  • Comment number 1.

    Fabulous article but no mention was made of Jennifer Pinches, current English champion, also of Liverpool and coached by Amanda Kirby.
    I think you'll find that Jenni is certainly a 2012 prospect and definately one to watch.


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