As we await the announcement of the 2016 British Olympic team, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the women that have come before them. Those that blazed trails, set standards, and broke down doors over the last sixty years. A history of both gymnastics in great Britain, and women in sport, who all helped pave the way for the team of 2016 to be where they are, genuine medal contenders, and amongst the very best in the world.
Here in part two, I look at the gymnasts from the 1988 games to the present day.
If you have and extra info about any of these ladies, particularly if they stayed in gymnastics in any capacity, please do let me know, and I will add it to what is already here.
Karen Hargate, Karen Kennedy
Karen Hargate placed 81st AA, 65th on vault, 68th on bars, 82nd on beam, and 81st on floor.
Karen Kennedy placed 89th AA, 90th on vault, 88th pon bars, 89th on beam, and 81st on floor.
Karen Kennedy with legendary Japanese gymnast Mitsuo Tsukahara
Karen Hargate was the youngest British Olympian in Seoul,and trained under Christine Bowker at Greenhead Gymnastics Club. Karen also competed at the 1987 world championships.
Karen Kennedy was coached by Colin and Bernie Wright of Rushmoor gymnastics Academy (I’m thinking perhaps at the time from from the very strong Camberley gymnastics club, as if memory serves me correctly, John Discom was coach at Rushmoor at the time.), parents of Claire Wright who represented great Britain in Beijing on Trampoline. Karen also competed at the 1987 world championships.
Unfortunately there are no pictures of Karen Hargate that I can find, but there is a video of her on floor at the Kraft International in the Olympic year.
Sarah Mercer, Rowena Roberts
Rowena placed 85th AA, 85th on vault, 84th on bars, 79th on beam, and 66th on floor.
Sarah placed 67th AA, 60th on vault, 60th on bars, 78th on beam, and 66th on floor.
Sarah on floor in Barcelona, Rowena on beam at the 1991 world championships.
Rowena trained at Heathrow gymnastics club under coaches Vince and Michelle Walduck, she also competed at the 1991 world championships.
Sarah trained at Leatherhead and Dorking gymnastics club under coach Vladimir Aksenov (coach to 1983 AA world champion Olga Mostepanova), she also competed at the 1989 and 1991 world championships, she was the 1989 British champion.
Sarah’s bars from Barcelona
Rowena’s compulsory floor from the Barcelona
Sonia Lawrence, Annika Reeder
Annika placed 64th AA, 66th on vault, 75th on bars, 73rd on beam, and 77th on floor.
Sonia placed 71st AA, 78th on vault, 83rd on bars, 91st on beam, and 89th on floor.
Annika on floor, Sonia finishing bars
Welsh gymnast Sonia was coached by Gareth Davies, she became the youngest Welsh winner of a Commonwealth Games medal in 1994 when she took silver on the vault. Sonia competed at the 1995 world championships, then retired from the sport after the 1998 Commonwealth Games. On retiring, Sonia took up pole vault, becoming the British under 23 record holder, and competing in the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
Annika trained at South Essex gymnastics club under coach Rod Smith. At fourteen, she became the youngest English Commonwealth Games medalist, when she she took two golds in Victoria Canada. She added another gold, and a silver, and a bronze four years later in Kuala Lumpur. In 1994 Annika was I believe the first British gymnast to make a European final, when she qualified on floor, she also qualified for the 1998 European vault final. Annika represented great Britain at six world championships, and two Olympic games, before retiring in 2000. Annika was also the first British gymnast to have a skill named after her in the code, she submitted the uprise one and a half turn on bars at the 1999 world championships.
Annika was the subject of a documentary leading pu to the 1996 games, which you can see here:
Sonia’s floor from Atlanta
Annika’s bars from Atlanta
Lisa Mason, Annika Reeder, Emma Williams, Kelly Hackman, Sharna Murray, Paula Thomas
The first full team of gymnasts for sixteen years, the Sydney team finished in tenth place with not a single fall from 20 routines.
Lisa, Annika and Emma qualified to the AA final finishing in 23rd, 32nd, and 35th respectively.
*Annika was injured on vault as a result of the infamous vault debacle of the 2000 final where it was set 5cm to low. She was unable to complete her competition.
Lisa placed 42nd on vault, 53rd on bars, 12th on beam (but due to the two per country rule missed the final by only one place and 0.025, where I personally feel she deserved the spot), and 30th on floor
Annika placed 28th on vault, 46th on bars, 28th on beam, and 34th on floor.
Emma placed 46th on vault, , 56th on bars, 51st on beam, and 39th on floor
Kelly placed 56th on vault, 53rd on bars, and 62nd on floor.
Sharna placed 61st on vault, 48th on bars, and 42nd on beam.
Paula placed 27th on vault, and 25th on floor.
Annika, Paula, Kelly, Emma and Lisa at the 200 Olympics, Sharna at the 1999 world championships.
Annika’s achievements I have mentioned from the Atlanta Olympics
Lisa trained at Huntingdon under coach Terry Sharpington. She won two Commonwealth gold, competed at three world championships, was three times British Champion, and the first British Gymnast to win a grand prix gold, when she beat both Svetlana Khorkina and Elena Produnova at Cottbus in 1998. Lisa initially retired after the games, but as many will know, then came back to competition in 2013.
I wrote more about Lisa’s two careers here:
Emma Williams trained at Liverpool under coach Amanda Reddin, and was British Senior AA, vault, and beam Champion in 2000.
Kelly Hackman trained at Woking under coach Clem Malcomson, and placed 3rd AA at the 2000 British championships, and was also a part of the 1998 silver medal winning team at the Commonwealth games in Kuala Lumpur.
Sharna Murray trained at Alderwood, alongside Rochelle Douglas who only just missed out on a place on this team. Sharna finished 3rd AA at the 2000 British championships, and second at the second Olympic trial. She also competed at the 2000 European championships.
Paula trained alongside Lisa Mason at Huntingdon, then Annika Reeder at South Essex. She just missed out on selection for the 1998 Commonwealth games, and 1999 world championships. Paula won the first Olympic trial, but struggled a little at the second, and then finished 7th at the British championships. Originally named as reserve, injury to Melissa Wilcox meant that Paula got her chance to compete, and as the top finisher on both pieces she competed, very much stepped up when called upon.
Annika and Lisa’s beams from QF are the first two routines here:
Paula’s floor starts at 4:47 here:
Emma’s floor is from 7:30 here:
Sharna’s vault from 2:50 here:
Kelly’s beam from 2:17 here:
Beth Tweddle, Vanessa Hobbs, Nicola Willis, Katy Lennon, Lizzy Line, Cherrelle Fennell
The team finished in eleventh place.
Beth finished 19th AA, 71st on vault, 11th on bars, 34th on beam, and 30th on floor.
Vanessa finished 44th AA, 31st on vault, 73rd on bars, 42nd on beam, and 44th on floor.
Nicola finished 53rd AA, 70th on vault, 60th on bars, 81st on beam, and 38th on floor.
Katy finished 21st AA, 31st on vault, 65th on bars, 34th on beam, and 42nd on floor.
Lizzy finished 41st on beam, and 38th on floor.
Cherrelle finished 34th on vault, 55th on bars, and 52nd on floor.
Nicola, Cherrelle, Katy, Vanessa, Beth in action in Athens, Lizzy at the Commonwealth Games.
Beth as most will know is simply the most successful gymnast great Britain has produced up to this point. Her achievements are so numerous, I will list here the ones leading up to this Olympics. By Athens, Beth had competed in three world championships, taking the bronze on bars in 2003. She had also taken bronze at the European championships in 2002, and the silver in 2004. Beth had also taken two world cup titles on bars in 2004, and was very much expected to make the final, however it was not to be this time.
Vanessa trained at Dynamo School of Gymnastics under coaches Keith and Debbie Richardson. She represented Great Britain at the 2003 world championships, and at the 2004 European championships where she made the vault final. Vanessa placed third AA at the 2004 British championships, and won the first Olympic trial.
Nicola Willis trained at South Essex, and was a member of the 2001 world championships team. She also was a part of the 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medal winning team, and the European team in 2004. Nicola won individual British senior titles on floor, vault, and bars. On retiring from elite, Nicola went to NCAA on a gymnastics scholarship with the Florida Gators, on finishing college, she joined Cirque Du Soleil
Katy trained at Leatherhead and Dorking under Vladimir Aksenov, the same coach as Sarah Mercer, and was one of a hugely talented crop of British juniors at the time. She took the Espoir British title in 1997, as well as three apparatus titles. If memory serves me correctly, Katy took some time out of gymnastics as a junior, perhaps through injury, before returning to make the 2001 world championships team. Katy took a team silver at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, then placed second AA at the 2004 British, and was named captain of the Olympic team.
Lizzy trained Pinewood gymnastics club, and was also a member of the 2003 world championship team, in the same year she took the British beam title.
Cherrelle trained at Wigan gymnastics club under coach Mike Lea. She missed out on the 2002 Commonwealth Games after an achilles injury, but fought back to make the team for the 2003 world championships. Initially named as reserve for the team, Amy was called upon when Amy Dodsley injured suffered a neck injury.
Beth’s bars QF
Vanessa’s floor QF
Katy’s floor AA
Lizzy’s beam QF
Cherrelle’s bars QF
Beth Tweddle, Becky Downie, Hannah Wheelan, Becky Wing, Marissa King, Imogen Cairns
There is an excellent documentary here about the gymnasts working to make this team, if you haven’t seen it already, I highly recommend it:
Just missing out on the team final, the 9th place was the finish was the best ever result in a non boycotted games up to this point for a British team.
Beth competed on bars and floor, finishing 11th on floor, and in a result which almost took her away from the sport, such was her disappointment, she finished 4th on bars by just 0.025.
Becky Downie finished 12th AA, and remains the highest ever British AA finisher in an Olympic final. No doubt she was cheered on to her achievement by her then just turned nine year old little sister Ellie. There is every possibility that this will change in Rio, and also every possibility that the honour will stay within the Downie family.
Hannah finished 77th AA, 79th on vault, 45th on beam, and 45th on floor.
Becky Wing finished 72nd AA, 49th on vault, 55th on bars, 39th on beam,
Marisa King finished 42 AA, 28th on vault, 68th on bars, 46th on beam, and 52nd on floor.
Imogen Cairns finished 33rd AA, 30th on vault, 67th on bars, 51st on beam, and 23rd on floor.
Beth had taken bronze on bars at the world championships in 2005, and historically become the world champion in 2006. She was also bars European Champion in 2006, and European floor silver medalist in 2007 and 2008. She of course went on for another quad.
Becky Downie came to the Beijing games at only 16, but was the reigning British AA and bars champion, and had a silver and a bronze from the Melbourne Commonwealth Games while still a junior. Having missed out on the London team, she was hugely disappointed, but thank goodness she decided to continue. Since Beijing she has amassed one world bronze, two European gold, and five silver, and two Commonwealth golds. All but one of those medals (Team European silver 2010) has been in the last quad leading toward Rio. My wish, and I’m sure that of many others, is that Becky is able to win the one missing medal in her collection in Rio.
Hannah was also a new senior in Beijing, she finished third at the 2008 British championships, and took the beam title helping her secure her place on the team. More about Hannah later, as she also competed in 2012.
Becky Wing trained at Heathrow Gymnastics Club. Another new senior on the team, she had been a very successful age group and junior gymnast. As gymnasts that would be senior in the Olympic year were able to compete in the previous world championships at that time, Becky was part of the 2007 team, helping to qualify for the Olympics. Becky continued into the next quad, taking part in the 2009 world championships, and the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Following on from her elite career, Becky went to NCAA on a gymnastics scholarship to Stanford University, graduating in 2015.
Marissa King trained at Huntingdon, and was part of the 2007 European and World Championship teams. She placed 8th AA at the Beijing test event, and took the bronze on vault. Marissa also continued after Beijing, making the British team for the 2009 world championships in London, then in 2010 she took silver on vault at the British Championships. Marissa also travelled to America to NCAA, she became a Florida Gator, and took the NCAA national title on vault in 2011, and also became a champion with her team in 2013. On graduating, Marissa joined Cirque du Soleil.
Imogen also made another Olympic team, so more on her later. In Beijing Imogen was already a third year senior, and had won the vault title at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but was forced to miss much on 2007 recovering from a broken ankle. At the British championships in 2008 she took the title on vault, and the silver medal on beam.
Beth’s bars AF
Beck Downie’s vault QF
Hannah’s floor QF
Becky Wing’s beam QF
Marissa’s beam QF
Imogen’s floor QF
Beth Tweddle, Hannah Wheelan, Jennifer Pinches, Becky Tunney, Imogen Cairns
Another big step forward for British WAG in London, the first team final, and highest finishing place to date with sixth place. In I believe an unprecedented selection, four of the team all came from one club, City of Liverpool coached by Amanda Reddin and Claire Duffy. They were joined by The Academy’s Imogen Cairns coached by Liz Kincaid.
Beth finished 9th on floor, and of course took bronze in the apparatus finals.
Hannah finished 24th in the AA final having qualified in 17th AA, 26th on vault, 22nd on bars, 43rd on beam, and 25th on floor.
Jenny finished 21st AA in qualifications, 30th AA, 36th on bars, 41st on beam, and 19th on floor.
Becky finished 13th in the AA final having qualified in 15th AA, 29th on vault, 13th on bars, 39th on beam, and 23rd on floor.
Imogen finished 29th on vault, and 37th on beam.
Proving that it was absolutely the right decision to continue after the Beijing games, Beth had her most successful quad from 2008-20012. One European silver as part of the team in 2010, then three European bars titles, and two European floor titles. Two more world titles, one on bars, one on floor, then her as yet unrivalled career topped off with the Olympic bronze. Since retiring, Beth has taken part in and won ‘Dancing on Ice’, is director and ambassador of ‘Total Gymnastics’, a company designed to provide gymnastics classes around the UK in partnership with local schools and leisure centres, and is a regular commentator on International gymnastics events. Beth is the one that showed it really could be done, and will forever be the trailblazer for British Elite Gymnastics. She will be very very hard to surpass.
Hannah made her own history as the first British European beam medalist, when she took the bronze in 2012, she also took the floor bronze on the same day. She was British champion in 2010 and 2011, and competed in the world championships in the same years, where she notably finished 9th AA in 2011. Hannah continued after the London games, taking silver on floor at the 2013 British, then silver and bronze on beam and floor at the 2014 British. Hannah was selected for the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, taking gold with the team, and bronze AA. Hannah’s last competition was the 2014 World championships, where she competed on beam, she then retired, and has moved into coaching.
Jenny competed at the 2010 and 2011 world championships, helping GB qualify for London. She was third AA at the 2011 British, and second in 2012. On retiring from elite, Jenny headed to NCAA at UCLA, and competed well through h2014 hitting 31 of 32 routines. Jenny retired in September 2015 due to wrist injuries, and graduated this summer.
Becky Tunney was the youngest member of the 2016 team, and a new senior in 2012. Going into the games, she had made the floor final at Europeans, and was British AA champion. At the 2013 world championships, Becky finished 19th AA. In 2014 Becky was the British AA champion, part of the British team that took the silver medal at the European championships, and finished 4th in the bars final by just 0.033. Becky then had a long period of injury to deal with, recovering from elbow surgery, we then saw her again in Autumn 2015 at the Bill McLoughlin team competition, and the Osijek grand Prix on beam and floor only. This year we have seen her at British teams, and the Stuttgart world cup where she performed very well on bars. Becky has continued to fight back to full fitness, coming second AA at the British championships, and attended the recent Rio squad Barcelona camp.
Imogen suffered a huge injury after Beijing, she damaged both ankles so badly on vault, that she was out for eighteen months. She returned to competition in 2010 placing 5th AA at the British, taking team silver and vault gold at the Commonwealth games, and making the team for the world championships where she made the vault final. In 2011 Imogen again made the team for worlds, helping GB qualify for London. On retiring from elite gymnastics, Imogen stayed in the sport focussing on choreography in particular where she has worked with the British junior and development squads. She has very recently taken a chance in direction, and joined Cirque Du Soleil.
GB vaults QF
GB bars QF
GB beam QF
GB floor QF
And of course Beth’s bronze winning routine from apparatus finals, in this video, she relives the routine, and talks through the experience.
The official team announcement will be made live on British Gymnastics Olympic page, and the Facebook page on the Tuesday 12th of July at 1:25pm.