Louis Smith’s Huntingdon Gym coach Paul Hall’s ‘very special Olympic moment’

PAUL Hall, Louis Smith’s Huntingdon Gym coach, insists the Great Britain team ‘exceeded expectations’ when they won their Olympic bronze in London on Monday night.

Hall, who has been Smith’s coach for 15 years – as well as coach to fellow team member Sam Oldham, and Dan Keatings, who was team reserve, talked to The Hunts Post from the Olympic Village yesterday (Tuesday) and said: “It was very special moment.”

Hall is part of the national coaching team that defied all the odds and turned a team of hopefuls into a team of medalists.

Indeed, it is exactly 100 years since a men’s gymnastics team last won a medal at an Olympics. That was a bronze too, in Sweden, in 1912. The disciplines were very different then however, and competitors were won points for their ‘artistry’ in, amongst other events: tumbling, rope climbing and club swinging, rather than the still rings, pommel horse or parallel bars.

“It would have been special if we had finished anywhere in the top eight because that was our target,” said Hall. “But the boys performed out of their skins and to win a bronze was brilliant.

“Losing the silver didn’t dampen things – obviously it would have been nice to get silver, but we got a medal and that exceeding our expectation.”

Hall says he can’t remember exactly when he first met Louis Smith, the captain of the team that had the whole of the United Kingdom on the edge of its seats on Monday. But admits the 23-year-old now feels like a member of his family.

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“I think he first turned up when he was seven or eight and we have now worked together for 15 years – but it’s not just about me, coaches all over the country have come together to make this happen. It has been a fantastic achievement.”

Hall, 48, was a young gymnast himself. “My claim to fame is I was the South East Essex floor champion,” he joked. “There were about three of us competing for that.” Pretty soon he realised coaching rather than competing might be the way forward.

“I first got involved with gymnastics when I was about 10 when I went a gym in Benfleet. By the time I was 18 I was a coach and when I was 25 I moved to King’s Lynn where I took a full-time job.”

He eventually ended up at Huntingdon Gym and teamed with the now double bronze medal winner smith on that forgotten day in the late 1990s.

Smith told The Hunts Post when we visited Huntingdon Gym in January: “I was a very hyperactive and I did loads of different sports – most of the children here are hyperactive kids.

“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.”

Hall is now working with his prodigy ahead of the men’s pommel horse final which will take place at the North Greenwich Arena on Sunday.

Smith’s biggest rival for a gold medal in that event is Hungarian Kristian Berki, who beat him to the top spot on the podium at the European Championships in Montpellier in May.

“We are feeling confident,” Hall said. “Hopefully I will have some more good news this time next week.”