Britain’s recent busiest international gymnast Kelly Simm has kindly found the time in her incredibly hectic schedule to talk to British Gymnewstics about her recent competitions, coming through the challenge cup route onto the British team, her training schedule, national squad, competing for Great Britain, growing up at Dynamo, all the impressive upgrades she has debuted this year, and her advice for young gymnasts.
First of all, congratulations on your success in Gwangju, you’ve been competing a lot recently, and it seemed that everything came together for the AA final. You appeared relaxed and prepared, would you say that that competing at the FIT Challenge, then in Baku helped build your competitive confidence?
Thank you! Yes I’d defiantly say that these competitions helped build my confidence going into Gwangju. The FIT challenge and Baku were both big competitions that I learned so much from. I had some good personal achievements from both of these but also some big disappointments. I know how important international experience is now and that defiantly all helped me in Gwangju.
How did having Keith Richardson, your personal coach from Dynamo, help you, especially as you didn’t have a team around you?
I was really happy to have my coach at this competition with me and I think it helped me a lot. We were able to keep training like we normally do when we got out to Gwangju and we didn’t think about any outcomes or results- we just had a lot of fun! I obviously missed not having the girls there but they were all so supportive when I was there!
Can we talk about your upgrades? You have debuted a completely new vault, joined the elite club of very few gymnasts competing a full in off beam, added the rarely ever seen whip to full in on floor, and then there is bars where not only did you impress everyone with a Ray-Tkatchev earlier in the year, you then debuted your own move, the in-bar or stoop stalder to piked Tkatchev. Who comes up with your upgrades, is it all your coaches, or do you have input into skills you’d like to try?
My coaches Keith (Mr R) and Debbie come up with the majority of the upgrades, but now I’m a bit older they talk to me about them too- sometimes I get a say in the ones I like or don’t like the sound of and sometimes I don’t!
Which of the upgrades took you the longest to get competition ready?
They all took a while to build up and to get confident with as you need to get a lot of repetitions in to make you feel more confident with new skills. We decided not to compete all upgrades in the recent competitions and focus on just a few but have continued to work them all in the background for future competitions.
Did you initially think ‘I’m never going to get that!’ for any of them?
Yes – most of them! When he first mentioned some of the skills or combinations I thought it was crazy and couldn’t imagine myself doing them! However I can tell that he believes I can do them so I trust him.
Are you planning to upgrade further this year on any piece?
Yes we are always thinking about upgrading, it’s important to always have skills in the background even if you don’t use them in the upcoming competitions to make sure you keep improving.
*As well as seeing a couple of Kelly’s potential future upgrades earlier in the year, Kelly’s coach Debbie Richardson shared the direction her bars will be going from here, prepare to be even more impressed when the time comes!
Looking back for a moment, can you share a little about developing into an elite gymnast and finally onto the Great Britain Squad? Having finished 18th then 17th at the British as a junior, you came flying into the senior ranks with an 8th place finish AA in your first year. You are a great example of a gymnast working her way steadily through the compulsory and voluntary levels. While some of your Dynamo team mates were on the national junior squads, you really started to shine at national level when were a little older, being selected as a senior on to the national squad.
I started gymnastics at dynamo when I was 6 years old. I really enjoyed it and loved being in the gym with my friends. My hours slowly started to increase and I started competing in the grades and levels competitions with the rest of my teammates each year and then went on to do compulsories where I passed compulsory 3 but then failed compulsory 2. This meant I had to do the challenge cup in order to get back onto the elite path. I passed the challenge cup after the second time doing it which meant I could compete in the British championships the following year, which was when I got selected for the England squad. I was in the squad for three years before I got selected for the GB squad when I turned senior.
What was your training schedule like as a young gymnast? At what age if any did you start to take time out of school for extra training?
When I was about 11 I started missing one afternoon of school a week for extra training which would mean I would do two sessions of 3 hours on a Thursday instead of just one evening session. This then gradually increased over the years to missing 4 afternoons a week of school by the middle of secondary school.
When did you first begin to realise you were catching up with the gymnasts who had been at the top of the junior ranks, and were now among the best in the country?
I think in the last couple of years when I started to trial for major competitions and was coming close to making the team that I realised that I was there or there abouts with the other girls. I could feel myself improving each year and I hope I can continue to do that.
Do you remember your first first national squad? Were you nervous?
I remember being invited to my first national squad after the English championships when I was first year senior. This is very late to be invited to the squad as the majority of gymnasts have gone up through the GB squad or had got in before reaching senior so I was very nervous! I remember it being very overwhelming seeing all the top GB gymnasts there and I felt really out of place! Everyone was so nice though and made me feel welcome!
Coming back to the present, you have now competed at World Championships, European Games, Commonwealth Games, and Universiade as well as many internationals. Can you describe what it means to you to be selected to compete for your country, to make it though the trials, on to the team, and step up to the podium with the Union Jack on your leotard? Are you able to treat it as just another competition, what do you say to yourself as you wait for the signal to start your routines?
It means so much to me to be selected for these amazing competitions. I have worked so hard with my coaches to make it onto teams for a long time and have just missed out on being selected a lot! I think when you have come so close so many times it makes it more special when you do get selected! Being on these teams is always such an honour and I would have never imagined being in the position I’m in and having done everything I’ve done when I was younger! It’s hard to treat the big competitions as just another competition but I feel like that’s what I’m learning to do more now, I think experience defiantly helps. I try to just think about each skill at a time.
Clearly you are aiming for World Championships this year, and Rio 2016, as Beth Tweddle chose to do, continuing with your studies while doing this. Are you taking a year out through 2016, or does being at university help to give you a focus outside gymnastics?
I think it’s really important to have a focus outside gymnastics and university has defiantly been this for me. I love the course (sports science) and find it so relatable to gymnastics- and I have a great group of friends there. I am lucky that my university is very supportive of my gymnastics and is only 15minutes away from the gym and my home so it’s easy to get between them all. Next year I am transferring my course from full time to part time so I will still be going to uni, just spreading the units of my second year out over two years instead of one, as there is a lot of work involved which can be very time consuming and tiring!
Did/ will you ever consider joining the increasing numbers of British gymnasts heading to America and competing NCAA collegiate gymnastics?
I have never really had an interest in competing in collegiate gymnastics. I’m really close to my family and love the environment I train in. However it does look really fun and I love watching the girl’s floors routines out there!
Can you describe your day to day training schedule now, what sort of hours you are doing over how many sessions, and do you have a set schedule in the gym each day conditioning/dance/apparatus/flexibility wise?
Now I do double sessions 4 days a week, each session is about three hours with roughly an hour break in between and one longer session on a Saturday. We don’t really have a set schedule each day, it depends on what we have coming up whether that’s competitions or time to work on new elements. In the afternoons the gym is normally pretty empty so we can spend as much time on any apparatus and then in the evenings the rest of the squad is in so that’s usually a bit more structured with set times of around 40mintues on each apparatus.
Which areas would you say you have to work hardest on in the gym, what area of your gymnastics would you like to improve the most?
We have to work hard on every aspect in the gym, as it’s all really important but we have been trying to work on improving my execution on all apparatus and are continuing to work on this
How often do you attend Lilleshall for national squad, and how does the training schedule there differ from your club session?
We are usually at lilleshall at least once a month now, but are there a lot more leading up to major competitions. Its nice to train with all the GB girls, we all get along really well but the training is very intense. There is a programme set on each apparatus and we have certain amounts of time on each piece, so its all quite fast paced.
Finally, as a young gymnast you grew up at Dynamo with national squad gymnasts to look up to and aspire to, and you are now in that position yourself. What would you say to younger gymnasts in the early years of the elite path:
To help get through a bad day at training?
As frustrating as they are there are going to be bad days in the gym. I try and find one positive of that session or one skill that did go well instead of focusing on what went wrong which makes it easier to forget about it and come back the next day ready to make it better.
To cope with a disappointing competition?
Having a disappointing competition is horrible as you work so hard for so many years. I would say try and look at it as experience that you can learn from ready for your next competition.
To encourage them to work at the parts they find the hardest?
If you want to keep improving then you need to work on everything including the things you find the hardest.
A huge thank you to Kelly for sharing her experiences for fans of the sports, and also for those young gymnasts hoping to follow in her footsteps.