The rain pounded down on the roof of the Huntingdon Gym Club’s gymnasium but never managed to drown out the cheers of over 70 spectators who gathered to cheer on team GB the London 2012 men’s pommel horse final on Sunday.
Members of the gymnastics club and their families were invited to watch the event August 5 on a big screen at the gym. Spectators sat on mats, benches, and even a balance beam, hopeful for another medal.
The men’s gymnastics team recently won a bronze medal in the Artistic Gymnastics Men’s Team Final event – a first for British gymnastics in over 100 years. Teammates Louis Smith from nearby Peterborough - and who trains in Huntingdon -- and Max Whitlock from Hemel Hempstead both had made it through to the pommel horse final, giving Great Britain two more chances for a medal.
Adam Scott is one of the non-elite coaches and takes care of business matters at the gym. Since the gymnastics team won the medal, parents have rushed to enroll their children at the gym. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing lately!” he says. There is a long waiting list at the moment, but with plans for an extension, there will eventually be room to accommodate new budding gymnasts.
With still an hour to go until Max and Louis’ appearance, the children tumble and jump on the mats as they wait. The kids obviously have a lot of energy to burn, which many parents comment was the reason they got their kids into gymnastics in the first place.
Owen Harrison is 11, and won the 2012 Hunts Post Sport Award for outstanding achievement (under 18s) and competes nationally in diving and gymnastics. He’s been doing gymnastics since he was 6 and says he doesn’t have a preference of one sport over the other. “My favourite apparatus is the pommel horse, like Louis Smith,” he says. The best advice Smith’s given him, Owen says, is that “it’s not how strong you are, but how clean your moves are.” Owen runs back to his friends, one of whom has just done a forward flip in mid-air.
It’s not just the younger gymnasts here today. Cameron MacKenzie, 18, is a Junior European team gold medallist, and has been training in Huntingdon since he was 9. “I was small, so my parents got me started in gymnastics”, he says. He hopes to make the 2016 Olympic team and regularly trains with Louis Smith. “He’s fun and likes to play tricks on people. He’s really lighthearted and boosts the mood at the gym,” Cameron says.
Cameron sits next to David Ho, 17, who coaches the recreational gymnasts and the elite boys. He’s been coaching for 3 years and took up gymnastics at age 6 when he moved to Huntingdon from Hong Kong. He explains that athletes maintain a strong link with the gym: “The gym is a second home to us. It’s like a whole community in itself.”
There is a strong sense of pride at the gym, as many people here have known Louis Smith since he was a small child. One coach says, “I’ve known him since he was this tall!” holding her hand to her stomach. “And he’s always given me trouble!”
A hush falls over the audience and the children who were once bouncing around are sitting quietly, eyes fixed on the screen. There’s a huge roar when Max and Louis appear, and another roar when Max moves into first place after his routine. The crowd doesn’t just cheer on their own athletes; they burst into applause after each performance and collectively gasp when any of the gymnasts have a close call.
Smith’s routine brings on the biggest cheers, but there’s some disappointment when his score is displayed. In the end Max wins a bronze and Louis wins a silver, a very respectable finish and great news for the gymnastics club.
Camera crews and news presenters gather around the children, giving them a taste of what’s to come should they make it to the Olympics themselves. With boundless energy and the inspiration of medal-winning training mates, they are certainly off to a good start.