Early in 2015, one of Britain’s top elite gymnasts, Reiss Beckford from South Essex Gymnastics Club, made the decision that after competing for Great Britain and England he would use his valuable knowledge and experience to begin competing for Jamaica, where he also holds citizenship, to help develop gymnastics in the country.
Reiss has been training for many years under the watchful eye of coach Scott Hann, alongside double Olympic medallist Max Whitlock and Junior European Champions Brinn Bevan and Jay Thompson. Reiss was an extremely successful junior gymnast and at the 2010 Junior European Championships took gold with the British team and bronze on rings and high bar. In that same year he went on to compete at the Commonwealth Games for England and took team, all-around and floor silver.
We recently joined Reiss during his training to find out how this new adventure came about and how the Road to Rio is looking in his new colours of gold, green and black…
“My grandparents on my dad’s side came over from Kingston, Jamaica in the 50’s. When I was really young my granddad would always joke about me hopefully one day competing for his country and that I was always competing for Great Britain so why couldn’t I compete for Jamaica! Although I’ve always had dual nationality, at a young age I thought he was just being silly and that it wasn’t possible. However, last year I was approached by a woman named Marlene who is the team manager for Jamaican gymnastics and she asked if I’d like to compete for Jamaica. At the time I didn’t think much of it but I then found out they had created a federation and that her daughter had competed in the 2011 World Championships in Japan. I looked into it a bit more and found out it was possible and that I was eligible to compete for them. It was a really hard decision after so many years competing for Great Britain, I had an amazing career which I am so grateful for as it helped me get to where I am now but I made the jump and I am now looking forward to a new adventure.”
Reiss tells us how even though he is eligible to compete for Jamaica; he will have to earn a place on the team just like anyone else…
“I have to trial to get onto the Jamaican squad like you would with any country. This will be in June at an invitational competition in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s also doubles up as a trial for this year’s World Championships in Glasgow. There will be three places for the boys and there are five of us, so I have to earn my place just as I would have done here. They don’t have national championships as there are not enough elite gymnasts, altogether there are only about 10 in the country including girls, so they are using the invitational compeition as a trial for both the squad and worlds.”
We ask what he hopes to achieve whilst competing for Jamaica and if he sees a strong future for the sport in the country…
“I think once I have been competing for the county for some time I can help start a programme similar to the one we have in Great Britain to develop gymnastics over there. Not only that but I also want to make history, if I make it to the Olympics, I will be the first Jamaican gymnast ever to do so.”
So how will he make it to the Olympics? And is he on track so far?
“I will have to compete at the 2015 World Championships and then qualify for the Olympic test event next year. There will then be a certain score put forward that I need to achieve at the test event in order for me to make Rio. My training is going really well, it’s a different type of training though, when I was with Great Britain there was so much depth and it is all about the team which is very difficult to get into. Now I’m competing as an individual and it’s all for myself so it’s a bit of a different pressure but everything is going really well so far. I competed at the British Championships earlier this year, I had a few silly mistakes but it went well overall. At the moment I’m trying to consolidate all my skills and compete solid routines across all six apparatus. I’m not trying to get into any major finals I’m just trying to get a strong all-around score to stay on track and make it to the Olympics.”
Amongst all the new beginnings, Reiss insists nothing has really changed and the support and love he has for the sport is still as strong as ever…
“Training at South Essex is awesome, it’s a fantastic club. I have known all of the guys since we were really young, we are like family and we do everything together. Everything is exactly the same as it was before; Scott (Hann) still coaches me and is really supportive and I am so excited to continue my gymnastics that I love and begin my new adventure.”
We wish Reiss all the best as he takes on his new challenge.
Follow Reiss on Twitter to keep up to date with his progress.