British Senior Gymnast Jennifer Pinches recalls the build up and success of the recent World Artistic Championships in Japan, and looks forward to the home Olympic Games next year...
We had trained hard in the 3 week pre-World Championships preparation camp at Lilleshall National Sports Centre, under the guidance of our personal coaches and our national coaches Colin Still and Carol-Angela Orchard ('C.A'). After many useful friendly competitions against countries such as Spain, Portugal and Romania too, our team was feeling fairly confident and ready to go.
Our Technical Director Adrian Stan (Also known as 'Adi') gave us some words of advice and encouragement before we left and seemed relaxed about us being able to qualify the places we needed for 2012, which eased the pressure a little.
Fortunately we had been able to acquire the correct equipment that we would be working on once in Japan, before we travelled there. This meant we could effectively adapt the timings of our skills and routines, to match the elasticity and 'feel' of the apparatus for optimum performance when we were there. I should thank all the players of the National Lottery for enabling us this privilege, as the National Lottery funding we receive benefits our success greatly as it goes towards actions such as this, and really is appreciated.
Adi is also in charge of the difficult decisions that have to be made when selecting who represents Great Britain at these events. There are always many viable options for the team due to the large number of eligible talented girls in our squad, however on this occasion the best recipe for Tokyo was deemed:
Jennifer Pinches (myself)
And Laura Edwards as reserve, respectively.
It was these women, therefore, that waited with me at Heathrow Airport on the 29th of September wearing the uniform GB kit from Milano. We changed our money to Yen, made sure we had everything, and began our long journey across the world to our destination in Japan. The journey was without trouble, besides the entertainment system on flight having a slight malfunction for the first half of our time in the air. I can't and shan't complain however, as the Virgin staff on board were very helpful and did their best to fix it quickly, as well as handing out appropriate apology forms.
When we arrived in Narita airport we had a short coach journey to our hotel in Tokyo, which was the prestigious 'Keio Plaza'. On second thoughts, it may not have been that short of a coach journey to the hotel, yet due to our exhaustion, the excitement of being in Japan died down rapidly and we all fell asleep within quick succession of one another.
The hotel was (and probably still is) stunning. It was almost enough to keep us from our extreme drowsiness... But not quite. We went on a walk as a team and Tim (Our head of Delegation) organised set activities to keep us conscious and combat our jet lag as best as possible, but it was a whole week later until I finally stopped waking up at 5am and feeling sleepy in the afternoon.
The +8 hours from the UK gave me the worst jet lag I have ever had. Despite this, my and the team's training was still going well, perhaps because our scheduled training was late in the evenings since it was based upon us being in the very last competition round, so were able to go back to bed earlier on in the day. On the other hand, perhaps it was because we knew our routines so well that we could cope with the handicap jet lag threw at us. Either way, with the competition looming, I felt that the team spirit was still calm and positive as training continued in the new environment.
The opening ceremony was held on October the 7th, with Beth Tweddle honourably chosen to take the athlete’s oath and promise a fair competition on the behalf of all of us. This was also the first day of the women’s qualifying competition so we kept up to date with the other team’s scores live on twitter in between our own training session. We had to wait until 8pm the following evening to have our chance to show that we were worthy of a top 8 spot, and a place at the Olympic Games, but I tried not to think about it too much as the anticipation of waiting and counting down only increases my nerves.
When I awoke the next morning I could do nothing else but visualize the competition later and pray that we were going to pull together and achieve our goal of qualifying for the Olympics, by coming in that all important top 8. I knew it wasn’t our last chance to qualify a team as if we didn’t make it there is a second chance to qualify at the Olympic Test event in January, but to continue competition training over Christmas, until then, was not something that anyone in the team wanted to do unless absolutely necessary.
My nerves bubbled up gradually through the day, rising as the competition time drew nearer and nearer. When you're out there under the spotlight, in front of a crowd of thousands with more watching from their television sets and the judges scrutinising your every move, everything is different. We started on Asymmetric Bars then rotated around to compete on the Beam, then Floor, then Vault. As I presented to the Judges and stood ready to compete my nerves erupted sending tingling adrenalin through me. Danusia had completed her routine brilliantly to start off our scores for Great Britain and so I was eager to follow it. My bar routine had not gone ideally in our podium training the previous Tuesday, where we had tested out our routines in the competition arena, but this time I managed to finish it with satisfaction. Now I could cheer on the other girls for a few minutes before concentrating on my other performances.
Admittedly the remainder of the competition did not go perfectly, nevertheless we did not have a bad competition and the only mentionable hiccup in our team was the slight mistake which meant that Beth would miss out on the Bar Finals, although she was set to be in the Floor Finals. I was very pleased with the way my Beam routine had gone, as I stuck my new dismount and received a good score of 13.9. When our last competitor had finished on the Vault, Hannah, Imogen, Danusia, Beth, Becky and I all huddled together and watched the score board, waiting to see if we’d done enough.
Our team score was totalled but Japan and France were still competing and we lay in 7th position with their scores yet to be submitted. As both teams were capable of beating us, we could not breathe a sigh of relief yet as we were uncertain if we were safe or not. The wait was agonisingly long. After what seemed like a lifetime, the score board suddenly flickered to give the final result. We were in 8th! We had qualified for 2012!!
We celebrated with such glee that an uneducated onlooker may have thought we had just won gold! Hugging and crying we absorbed the fact that we would now certainly have 5 places for Great Britain in the London Games. After the interviews and festivity was over, there was still the team final to focus on 3 days later, although we had got what we came for, so weren’t too agitated for that.
The Team Final was a better format for us, as only 3 girls had to compete however all three scores would count towards our total rather than just the top ones. We certainly made the most of this competition and enjoyed it thoroughly, proving that we deserved to be in the final too, with performances to be proud of. Beth executed a near perfect routine proving her true potential for 2012 and scoring an astronomical 15.666. We achieved our highest ever placing for GB at the World Championships by coming in 5th which was an amazing result. Beth also did Britain proud in the Floor Final, and Hannah Whelan stormed to 9th position overall in the AA Final. Overall it was a fantastic few days of competition which I will not forget.
The closing banquet was a very entertaining evening, including dressing in Kimono’s and eating sushi. There was even time to relax and visit Disney Sea before we left Japan. Now we have a few weeks of recovery and rest before we start on our path towards the Olympic Games. In January we will support the Men’s Team as they hope to qualify their team as well and in the meantime I will try to upgrade and perfect my routines in the hope that I might be chosen as one of the 5 girls who will compete for Great Britain in 2012.