London Prepares: Gymnastics

12 January 2012, The o2

As a former gymnast – well, at age of 5 I made the squad before cruelly having to relocate with my family to a place not so conducive to following Olympic dreams – I attended the ‘London Prepares’ Artistic Gymnastics with anticipation. It didn’t disappoint. Part of a series of events to put the London 2012 Olympic venues through their paces, it wasn’t just the o2 arena that was being put to the test this Thursday night; for the British Men’s Gymnastic team this event was their last chance to secure a full compliment for the home games. After a poor performance in the World Championships in Tokyo – they missed out on the top 8 – the pressure was on. To qualify they needed to finish as one of the top 4 teams.

Just to be clear we’re talking about artistic and not rhythmic gymnastics. Normally competing separately it was interesting to watch a mix of both women and men’s events run in parallel. Alongside the British team the first night of apparatus finals saw men from Chile, France, Spain, Russia, and Lithuania compete on the Floor, Pommel Horse and Rings. Women were represented on the Vault from amongst the likes of Brazil, Israel and the Netherlands with gymnasts from Canada, Russia, China and Blighty’s own Rebecca Tunney competing on the Uneven Bars.

An atmosphere full of anticipation, the home crowd were in fine spirits, the realization sinking in for many attending that the 2012 home games were in the offing. Retro intro music at well timed intervals also meant the buoyant mood didn’t dissipate throughout the event. Audible oos and ahs were heard in all the right places and there was a collective ouf for any gymnast taking an unintentional tumble. To assist spectators adjusting from TV viewing accompanied by the requisite commentary the organisers had taken measures to bring in a helpful technical commentary after each performance. My friend and I were also treated to an alternative commentary complete with frequent BBM alerts from a group of teenage lads which kept things interesting. One criticism however was the distracting piped music – at times we reached the depths of panpipes – throughout the performances. I can’t think this helped the athletes and it certainly didn’t help me.

So how did the Brits fare? Setting the note for the night Daniel Purvis romped home with a great performance to win gold on the floor. He was also accompanied on the podium by Kristian Thomas winning the bronze medal. Not to be outdone Louis Smith put in a magnificent display on the pommel horse, taking the gold with 15.700 points, the highest on any individual apparatus much to the home crowd’s delight. Max Whitlock also placed second in this discipline demonstrating the British team’s determination to qualify. And I was pleased to learn that they matched their performance on the following night to head into the home games with a full house.

The female gymnasts also put in impressive displays on the Vault and the Uneven Bars – my highlight of the night. Brazilian Jade Fernandes Barbosa shone with a powerful and beautifully executed vault to take gold. One to watch for the games. Our own Becky Turney put in a valiant performance on the Uneven Bars although she only placed 6 despite the home fan’s encouragement. Notable displays also came from France’s Youna Dufournet and China’s Jinnan Yao. The Russian gymnast Anastasia Grishina however was the star of this discipline. Her performance, with the maximum difficult of the final, combined strength with an impeccable bodyline. It looked even more impressive from the proximity of our seats and being able to inspect the different coaching techniques was an added bonus we enjoyed.

Coming away from the event thoroughly convinced by live gymnastics, I was reassured as London prepares for the games we await.

Jane Findlay

The Substantive Columnist Mel Gomes’ new e-book Glory Nights: From Wankdorf to Wembley’ is now available to download from Amazon and Smashwords, documenting high-level football and the journey of travelling around Europe in a sport where money is now valued alongside trophies. New, independent writing on popular culture, it is being backed by The Substantive.