HUNTINGDON-based gymnasts Louis Smith and Daniel Keatings were two of the six men who were in the British team that qualified for the Olympics last week – but now they have to win a place on the team that will take part at London 2012!
Having missed out on qualification when they finished 10th at the World Championships in Tokyo, Japan, just before Christmas, the pair joined up with teammates Dan Purvis, Kristian Thomas, Ruslan Panteleymonov and Max Whitlock for another crack at qualification at the North Greenford Arena last week – and were successful.
But now the hard work really begins as only five gymnasts will be picked for the men’s team that will represent Britain at the Games.
Talking exclusively to the Hunts Post, Smith, who like Keatings is coached by Paul Hall at Huntingdon Gym Club, said: “Qualifying was a tough challenge, but now there are five places and about 13 lads trying to get in. So I will have to keep busy and keep fit.
“It’s understandable – there’s a lot of boys all working towards the same dream and it’s all about choosing the best team, the right team. The best team will go and I have to try and stay away from injuries and keep focused.
“The Olympics is just six months away – but we have the European Championships first – so it’s all about peaking at the right time.
“We all grew up with each other and have been competing against each other for years. We all get on with each other really well and it’s an enjoyable thing training with all the boys. It’s never bitter or sour, it’s very relaxed.”
Smith is the team’s pommel horse specialist – but the GB team’s technical director Eddie van Hoof has indicated he sees an extra role for the 22-year-old, who won a bronze medal on the horse at the last Games in Beijing, China.
“We will look at structure and look at Louis to cover other apparatus, but also at our best medal chances. Louis is also good at parallel bars and, suprisingly, the rings as well,” he said.
First though, there are those European Championships in Birmingham in April. Smith is likely to be named captain of the team for that event. It’s a long way from his beginnings at the Huntingdon club where he was dragged by his exasperated mother in 1996.
“I was very hyperactive and I did loads of different sports – most of the children here are hyperactive kids,” he said.
“My mum was a single parent and I was annoying her with my hyperactivity, so she dragged me along to try to wear me out a bit. I came here and gymnastics captivated me.”
On the day we spoke to Smith at the Gym, it was very busy. Sponsors’ British Airways were holding a kids’ training day and there was a camera crew recording his every movement. But the laid-back gymnast cut a relaxed figure amid all the chaos. “The more successful you get, the more pressure you are going to get and the higher the expectations,” he said. “That’s part and parcel of success.”