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02nd Nov 2015

Mark Chapman: Who needs football when you’ve got gymnastics?

Mark Chapman

When I first spoke to about writing a column, they did tell me that I could write about anything to do with sport, it didn’t always have to be about football.

Football is so dominant and omnipresent that most weeks it is impossible to ignore. However, this week, we are going elsewhere and I will put JOE’s permission to write about anything to the test, because this week I am going shout from the rooftops about my love of gymnastics!

20 years ago, if I had been asked to watch gymnastics, I would have refused. ‘I’m in my 20s and I like ball sports and beer what would I want with gymnastics’ I would have mumbled in a laddish way. So please don’t click off, navigate elsewhere or shut down this page because if you do you will be as narrow-minded as I was.


The World Championships have just finished in Glasgow and they have been the most successful ever for Great Britain with 5 medals. A gold for Max Whitlock on the pommel horse to go with 3 silvers and a bronze elsewhere.

Equally as important as the medals, both the mens and womens teams have qualified for the Olympics next year. Over recent years and recent tournaments – Olympics, Commonwealths, Worlds – we are improving at each event.

As one commentator said over the weekend ‘There was a time when we were just happy at Beth Tweddle making the final of an event. Now we are getting medals.’

And this is one of the reasons why I have fallen for the sport.

I have never bought into the school of thought that suggests a sportsman or sportswoman is a role model. Family should show children what’s right or wrong not somebody who swims, kicks, runs or jumps, but what athletes can do is inspire.

If they talk about how hard they work, how hard they train, how much they need Dads’ Cabs and how it can eventually pay off, then they can inspire the next generation.

British Gymnastics is reaping the rewards of Tweddle’s dedication and as the medals come in for Whitlock, Louis Smith, Claudia Fragapane, Becky Downie and the rest, thousands of other kids will want to follow in their footsteps.


And they will want to follow in their footsteps despite it being a brutal, gruelling, strength sapping sport. If you think this is all about prancing on a mat and doing a somersault then think again.

We had a discussion in the office last week, ‘if weight were equal who would be a stronger, a boxer or a gymnast?’ I would be tempted to plump for the gymnast.

No matter what the apparatus the strength and the control required to perform is huge. Not convinced? Stand up at your desk now, put your back to it and your hands on the surface. Now lift up your legs, straight in front of you and hold. Admittedly this is hard to do while still reading but try it now.


Welcome back. I presume you didn’t last long. Now imagine doing that, high up in the air on some rings. Or on a pommel horse. Or on the bars. And not only that but doing that as part of a much longer routine.

I first watched gymnastics live at the London Olympics. By the time the Commonwealths came round, I made sure I was there for several sessions.

It is a sport geared for the spectators. There is always something going on and in different areas of the arena. The vault may be in one corner with  the beam in another for example, whilst the floor exercise is  dominating the central area. You naturally watch what is going on in your particular corner but you never feel like you are waiting for something to happen.

The camaraderie of the competitors adds to the experience too. There is a willingness for everybody to do well rather than screw it up. Certainly, if there was someone wishing someone else to fall of the beam, they hid it very well.

That camaraderie was in evidence in the Worlds when Smith watched Whitlock take gold off him in the pommel and was still the first person over to congratulate him. And all of this takes place in front of a crowd brimming with enthusiasm and energy.

There has been more noise at some of the gymnastics sessions I have attended than at some so called bigger events. And they are knowledgable as well. They aren’t like a ‘c’mon Tim, centre court crowd’ who are there on a jolly and to be seen.

I watched a lot of the Worlds with one of my daughters. She loved it. She goes to weekly sessions; weekly sessions that are full of kids of all ages trying to be the next Whitlocks and Fragapanes.

Inspiring, succesful, fun, entertaining, respectful and bloody hard work. Gymnastics encapsulates everything a sport should be.