As one of the most exciting juniors to come up through the British Age Group system over recent times, and a member of the strongest group of juniors to date, East London’s Tyesha Mattis coached by Lorraine Atkinson was firmly on followers of British gymnastics radars right from the off when age nine in the same year as Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler, she won the first of the ‘In Age’ British voluntary championships she was eligible for, back in 2008.
Tyesha also took the level two British voluntary title two years later, then having missed the major competitions of her first year as an Espoir in 2011, she then returned in 2012 taking the English AA title, and placing fourth at British Espoirs. At that time unlike now, for British championships range and conditioning was included at this age, and Tyesha didn’t have her best day on that event, however over four pieces she was the top AA scorer. In the same year, Tyesha took gold with the team, silver AA, silver on bars, and bronze on vault and beam at the School Games.
Entering the junior ranks in 2013, Tyesha first traveled to Sydney for the Australian Youth Olympic Festival, where she took silver with the team alongside Amy Tinkler, Catherine Lyons, and Teal Grindle. She also took the AA and vault golds, vaulting a double twisting Yurchenko, very rare from a first year junior, and at the time still relatively rare from British gymnasts full stop. Tyesha also took bronze on bars and floor.
Silver AA, gold on vault, and silver on floor at the English championships followed, she then took the British junior AA title, as well as bronze on vault, gold on beam, and silver on floor.
The other major competition of 2013 for the juniors was EYOF (European Youth Olympic Festival). The team of Tyesha, Ellie, and Amy travelled to The Netherlands, and placed second to Russia who fielded two second year and one first year juniors. In the AA Tyesha placed third, but it is worth noting that at this competition there was a difficulty cap at E level skills. As a first year junior, Tyesha landed a huge double double, a full in, a triple twist, and a double tuck, but as the double double is an H , she lost 0.3 in actual D score. Missing the gold by just 0.1, as neither the gold or silver medalist counted any skills over an E, Tyesha would have also won this competition if allowed her full difficulty. Tyesha also took home the bronze on vault.
So a huge start to her junior career, and very impressive skills and results for a first year junior, impressive, but such was the talent of this young gymnast, not at all unexpected.
Into 2014, and her final junior year, Tyesha began by taking the English title, she then had a rough day at the British with four falls, but still finished sixth, and took the vault and bars titles in apparatus finals.
With junior Europeans approaching, I don’t think there would have been anyone that wouldn’t have expected to see Tyesha on the team pushing for AA and apparatus medals. It wasn’t to be, and the first big injury battle arrived meaning we wouldn’t see her again until the beginning of her senior career in 2015. Since then, it has been an incredibly tough time for Tyesha, she was back on top at the beginning on 2015 taking the British bars and beam titles (the two pieces she contested) in her first competition back, she was then fighting injury again, before returning to competition at the start of 2016, where she again suffered an injury at British teams, taking her out of the running for Rio trials.
Tyesha Returned to competition in October at the Rushmoor Rosebowl, competing for Great Britain on bars and beam. She took gold with the team, and made both individual finals taking bronze on bars. Most importantly this incredibly determined young gymnast had come back once more, and made it out on to the competition floor for her country. I will never count this girl out, not only is she packed with talent, she has the drive, the tenacity, and the iron will when everything is against her to fight her way back time and time again.
Let’s hear from Tyesha herself:
Hi Tyesha, and thank you for agreeing to the interview. To start with, If we can go back to you coming through age groups, You were very successful from early on, what aspects of gymnastics came easy to you, what did you struggle with and have to work hard on as you came through compulsory and voluntary age groups?
I mostly struggled in compulsories on my range and conditioning, as that was my weak area because I didn’t have good flexibility and shapes. However I enjoyed voluntaries more.
Coming up, you were part of a very strong generation, with Amy Tinkler and Ellie Downie in your age group year, then Catherine Lyons and Teal Grindle the year below you so sharing Espoir and junior competitions. Was having such strong competition a motivation for you, or were you more self driven, and primarily concerned with your own progress and performance?
It’s was really nice competing along side my team mates, but that was my main thing that motivated me. It was my friends and family that kept me going strong. Also when I’m out there competing I just block everyone out and perform.
If we can go back to 2013 and 2014, your years in the junior ranks, you had won the AYOF AA, and the British junior title, you then took bronze AA at EYOF which would have been gold were your hardest skills given their true value. You then took the 2014 English title, and after a shaky AA at the British came back to take bars and vault titles.
How confident were you feeling at this point? What were your expectations for junior Europeans?
To be honest I thought I did have good year till I got to the British, where I started to feel a bit more pressure because I had all eyes on me because I was the last British champion. Although I made up for my bad AA performance and had a better day in finals, I wasn’t really thinking about Euros I was just trying to take step by step and hope I was going to get picked for the euros team.
Can you tell us what skills you hadn’t yet competed you were working on at this point in time while still a junior? How close to the Amanar were you?
I was working in training Shap to clear circle Tkatchev , Tkatchev half to backstraddle, Wieler Kip, and double front half out on bars but never got to compete it.
I was working The Amanar onto pit vault with hard level mats, and I was easily over rotating it.
Talking about that first injury in 2014, what happened? You were out for the rest of the year, was this expected in terms of recovery when you were injured, or were there complications?
In 2014 when I got injured I was at the euro trials at national squad. The trials went on for the Saturday and the Sunday. Saturday was a flying day for me, as I went clean on my pieces and won the trials for that day. Then Sunday came, I was warming up for my double twisting Yurchenko on vault, as I turned it I sadly landed with both feet slightly on the back of the mat and on the base mat still finishing the twist. Straight away I knew I had badly hurt my left ankle as I felt severe pain, I got rushed to the hospital and had scans the same week to find out what I had done. Ended up having surgery, then I was on the mend.
We next saw you at the 2015 British as a first year senior, you came back on two pieces and took both titles, how did that feel having had so long out?
In 2015 at the Britsh winning bars and beam was such a good feeling coming back from injury. I know I was not fully fit, but I was working so hard and it paid off. However I was still getting really bad pains in my ankle, after I kept landing funny on it on my flick full twist. After the British I had some more scans done, and having to find out terrible news that I had to go through with another surgery on my left ankle as I’d torn my tendon really badly, so I went through the same cycle again that year.
Where were you in terms of getting back to AA at that point? Did you have hopes to contend for a place on the European and world teams that year?
After all of that I was going through my main thoughts was getting myself back on track ready for the 2016. I didn’t want to rush it and I wanted to make sure I done it right this time round.
That brings us to 2016, I know that you were aiming to compete all around at teams, including coming back on floor and vault for the first time in two years. How close were you to being back to full strength at this point?
You were injured on floor, what happened there, and how long were you off floor and vault again?
I was back with a basic floor and my big vault, my normal beam and bars. I was looking forward to competing and teams was my first competition, however I landed on a straight leg on my first tumble which put me out for two weeks. My aim was to get to the British which I did only have a week to prepare for after the accident I had at teams.
I got to podium training, then as I was working on my vault the first double twisting Yurchenko I turned, I landed the slightest bit short and my left ankle just went on the landing. I forced myself to stand up because I didn’t come this far to not compete, however I was in too much pain to even walk on it, so I sat back down and just hoped and it was not as bad as it felt. Shortly after that I saw the doctor he gave me tablets and every information I needed to recover as quick as I could. He said ” Come see me tomorrow morning and I can let you know if you can compete or not.”
The next day finally came, me and my mum were hoping for the best news, even if I could only do bars. Sadly my ankle looked even worse the next day, and the doctor said I should not take the risk because I could end up doing more damage. So that was me out the British just like that.
Motivation must have been very difficult at times, having had to miss out on major teams when it was very much realistic to hope you were headed for the top, given how well you were going. Were there times when you struggled to keep going with gymnastics? What has helped you through?
At this point I needed motivating as much as possible after all the injuries I was going through. My confidence was so low, but I had all the support around me to keep me going to where I am now.
Happily you have just returned to competition on bars and beam at the Rushmoor Rosebowl, how was it being out there competing for Great Britain again? Tell us how the competition went for you, what were your aims going in?
Competing at the Rosebowl for Great Britain as well was an amazing feeling for me and just gave me that little bit of a reminder why I do gymnastics. I enjoyed it so much, and my main aims of the comp was to go out there and have fun, and I did. The team came first and I made bar finals and came third with a fall so not bad.
You have fellow British senior squad member Georgia Mae Fenton training alongside you at East London, you are almost completely contrasting gymnasts in terms of areas of strength, do you find this helpful in terms of working on and helping each other with the areas you find more challenging?
Working alongside Georgie-Mae definitely helps me with my presentation and shape work. She is a close friend to me and a lovely gymnast to train alongside.
How are you doing now? How close to full fitness are you? Are you training on floor and vault as yet, and how are you getting on with it?
At the moment my training is going very well as I am working all four pieces fully now and it’s the best feeling ever. Now I’m just training to get some new skills for 2017.
Happily athletes are competing at the highest level in gymnastics for far longer nowadays meaning you are still a very young senior. What are your plans from here, for 2017 and beyond?
For 2017 I just want to go out there and really show off what I can do as a AA senior gymnast, as I still ain’t got the chance to. I’m also hoping to get picked for a couple world cups and I would also love to go to worlds and Euros as I still ain’t been to one of these competitions because of injury.
Your younger sister China is beginning to make a name for herself on the national scene (China who trains at City Of London Gymnastics became British Voluntary level 2 Champion in November), there are seven years between you, the same gap as Becky and Ellie and Downie. Would you love to make the same British team one day? Does she come to you for your advice and experience? Are you nervous watching her?
One day I would love for me and China to be competing on the same team as each other. I think that is definitely one of my long time goals. I also do get very nervous watching my sister because we don’t train at the same club, I don’t get to see much of what she is working on in training so its all a shock to me in comps. And yes my little sister is always saying she wants to be just like me and asking for advice.
Finally, can you explain what gymnastics means to you, what it has taught you, and what you love most about it?
I have learned that gymnastics is not just a sport, There is so much more too it. I have built relationships with some of the girls the will last a lifetime and that people will do all that they can do just to help you live your dreams. I have also learned if it doesn’t happen the first time keep your chin up and try again and again till you’re successful with your own results. But the most important thing never hold back because it easily can be 1 point difference between gold and silver. However the thing I love most about gymnastics is definitely the traveling and meeting new people.