Louis Smith has had an incredible year. Little did the pommel horse specialist, from Eye, near Peterborough, believe when the year began he would be entering 2007 with a Commonwealth Games gold medal on his mantelpiece. And Smith says he can hardly believ
Louis Smith has had an incredible year.
Little did the pommel horse specialist, from Eye, near Peterborough, believe when the year began he would be entering 2007 with a Commonwealth Games gold medal on his mantelpiece.
And Smith says he can hardly believe the whirlwind that has been the last 12 months. He said: "It's probably been the best year of my life. It's been absolutely amazing. Even though I won the gold at the Commonwealth, going to Brazil for the World Cup Finals in December was the highlight.
"It was an incredible experience, especially considering I wasn't even on the original list of competitors.
"When Paul Hall (Huntingdon Olympic Gym head coach) phoned me to ask if I fancied going to Brazil, I thought he meant to watch. To be included in the top eight pommel specialists from the whole world was an incredible feeling and I was so pleased to go clean.
"It really felt like I'd come fifth in the Olympics because I was up against people from across the world."
Smith's year took off in March when he brought home a pommel horse gold medal from Melbourne - at the age of just 16.
After his win, Smith, who lists Russian gymnast Vitaly Scherbo and Muhammad Ali among his heroes, was straight on the phone to mum Elaine and brother Leon who had stayed up through the night to watch him.
Athletes from 78 nations converged on the Australian south-coast town but Smith kept coolest of all to perform a near-perfect routine and defeat older, more experienced, athletes.
That win catapulted him into the national spotlight - last month he was a guest on the prestigious BBC Sports Personality of the Year - but he says it hasn't got to him: "It's weird to have people so interested in me but I am slowly getting used to it and I take it all in my stride," he said.
Paul Hall said that Louis's superb year has helped raise the profile of the club. He explained: "Louis's talent and dedication means that we are put into the national spotlight and that is good news for us with regard to attracting sponsors."
Smith, who can now drive himself to his six training sessions per week after passing his driving test, is also the reigning European Junior Champion and 2007 will see him one of the favourites to qualify for the Great British 2008 Olympic team - although the team themselves have to qualify first.
Smith spends up to 30 hours a week training and practising his routines - as well as studying for two A-levels at the Arthur Mellows College in Glinton, near Peterborough.
Smith's mum Elaine Petch, has previously admitted that she first took her son to the gym to burn off some of his excessive energy.
Another of Smith's coaches, the late Terry Sharpington, once took Elaine to one side and told her that her son would be the one of the best ever English gymnasts.
Ironically, Smith, who has become one of the biggest names in the pommel horse world, used to be forced to perform circuits on the apparatus as punishment.
He said: "The coaches always used to say I had too much energy so they gave me repetitions to do. I guess it worked out well for me in the end!