Gymnast girls who are going for gold

THE opening ceremony of the XXIX Olympiad is held on Friday. In the second of a two-part feature, DAVE WOODS met the girls from Huntingdon Olympic Gym Club who are dreaming of glory on the world stage — at the ages of just 17 and 16. Name: Marissa King A

THE opening ceremony of the XXIX Olympiad is held on Friday. In the second of a two-part feature, DAVE WOODS met the girls from Huntingdon Olympic Gym Club who are dreaming of glory on the world stage - at the ages of just 17 and 16.

Name: Marissa King

Age: 17

Hometown: Cambridge

Specialist Apparatus: Vault

COMPLETING an error-free routine will be Marissa King's priority at Beijing, she told The Hunts Post.

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Marissa first tried gymnastics at the age of eight after attending an open evening at Cottenham Village College, but admits she had no designs on competing at the highest level in her formative years.

However, a move to Huntingdon soon after changed all that and the staff at the Clayton's Way facility have nurtured the Cambridge youngster's talent ever since.

Marissa said: "The coaching staff here has been so understanding - at times I think they are moaning at me for the sake of it but I know in my heart they are trying to make my routine the best they possibly can."

Around 12 month ago Marissa made her full international debut at an event in Amsterdam - a day which Huntingdon coach Paul Hall admitted made him as nervous as his prodigy: "It was her first performance in front of a massive crowd. She had a couple of tumbles, but within 12 months she has risen to the very top of her sport through sheer hard work and dedication."

With an intensive three-week training camp now completed, Marissa said she cannot wait for the Olympic experience to begin.

She said: "I cannot wait for the Games but I am also looking to the future as well.

"I would love to be part of the 2009 World Championships and the 2010 Commonwealth Games - but the 2012 Olympics may be too far away to consider, I will have to see."

Name: Kayleigh Cooke (first reserve)

Age: 16

Hometown: St Ives

Specialist Apparatus: Beam

AT JUST 16 years of age, Kayleigh Cooke could be forgiven for looking towards the Olympics in Beijing with some trepidation.

However, she told The Hunts Post that her position as first reserve did not faze her and she was looking forward to the experience.

Like Marissa, Kayleigh started in gymnastics at age eight, taking part in recreational sessions when her family lived in March.

The family then moved to St Ives, and with Kayleigh's talent already being recognised she found herself at Huntingdon Gym club - and almost immediately in the elite squad.

Her rise to the Olympic forefront has been nothing short of amazing as the teenager has been forced to overcome a number of niggling injuries over the years.

Kayleigh told The Hunts Post: "Every time I picked up an injury I became more and more determined to come out at the other end a better gymnast and the coaching staff were brilliant and so patient."

Kayleigh admits that 10 weeks ago she felt that the Beijing games might come to soon for her to be selected, but when her name was announced in the squad she was overjoyed - and also aware of the huge disappointment that some of her friends were suffering from missing the selection.

Kayleigh said: "Being first reserve means I have to be ready to step in at a moment's notice if there is an injury but I can use the Games as a learning experience either way.

"When I get back I will be looking towards the World Championships in 2009, the Commonwealth Games in 2010 and the 2012 Games in London."

n As The Hunts Post went to press, Britain's star gymnast Beth Tweddle was struggling with injury, possibly paving the way for Kayleigh's full involvement in the Olympics.

ALSO dreaming of glory in Beijing this year is swimmer Lauren Steadman, who will be swimming for Britain in the Paralympics, which begin on September 6.

Name: Lauren Steadman

Age: 15

Hometown: Sawtry

Sport: Swimming

BEING born without the lower part of her right arm has done little to hold back Sawtry starlet Lauren Steadman.

Initially aiming for the 2012 Paralympics in London, Lauren came into contention for Beijing earlier this year and earned her place with some impressive times.

As a 12-year-old Lauren joined Huntingdon Piranhas Swimming Club, where she remains a member. She now trains at the specialist Kelly College facility in Devon, under the stewardship of professional coaches.

Liz Brew, part of the coaching staff at Kelly College, said: "Lauren has done fantastically well and has already set so many records."

Lauren was named BBC East's disabled sports personality of the year in 2007.

John Richards, head coach at Huntingdon Piranhas, said: "Lauren's outstanding ability was evident from the minute she joined the club.

"She is proficient in all four strokes, but it is her freestyle ability that has really impressed the selectors. She is extraordinarily dedicated and we are all so proud of her.