I’m just happy to be back tak­ing on the best in the world, says Tin­kler

Durham gym­nast best Bri­tish hope for women’s world ti­tle even after in­jury, says Jim White

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Racing -

When she steps out on the mat in the Gym­nas­tics World Cham­pi­onships in Mon­treal this week, Amy Tin­kler is not ex­pect­ing too much. She will be, she says, just de­lighted to be in­volved. It is now just over a year since, aged 16, she be­came only the sec­ond Bri­tish wo­man after Beth Twed­dle to win an Olympic gym­nas­tics medal. Enough time has passed since she took bronze in the floor ex­er­cises in Rio for her to re­veal some­thing that no­body watch­ing her in action ap­pre­ci­ated: as she bounced and som­er­saulted, flicked and span with ap­par­ently care­free aplomb, the tiny, wisp-like Tin­kler was car­ry­ing a long-stand­ing an­kle in­jury. A prob­lem which, once she re­turned from Brazil, set her back in her prepa­ra­tions to chal­lenge for the world ti­tle.

“It’s been an on­go­ing prob­lem for two years,” she ex­plained as she sat in the gym at the Na­tional Gym­nas­tics Centre in Lille­shall be­fore head­ing out to Canada. “My coach said why are we mess­ing about here? Get it sorted out. So I had an op­er­a­tion. Turns out there were a cou­ple of pieces of float­ing bone in my an­kle. Key­hole surgery went in and took them out. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was nig­gling me for a cou­ple of years.”

De­spite the nig­gle, Tin­kler, the youngest mem­ber of the Bri­tish team at last year’s Olympics, stood on the podium only a few weeks after sit­ting her GCSEs. But while it might be tempt­ing to imag­ine how she might have fared had she been prop­erly fit, she re­fused to ac­knowl­edge any hint of re­gret about what might have been.

“Just to be able to share the stage with Si­mone Biles was some­thing in­cred­i­ble,” she said of stand­ing on the podium along­side the mag­nif­i­cent Amer­i­can cham­pion. “Ev­ery­thing about Rio was ab­so­lutely amaz­ing, the crowd was mas­sive, ev­ery­one get­ting behind me. I loved it. But then the big­ger the crowd, the big­ger the oc­ca­sion the more I en­joy it.”

Since she re­turned from Rio, she has noticed that ev­ery­thing has changed. Not just her sur­rounds – she moved with her par­ents from Durham down to Es­sex, where she now trains in the same gym as Max Whit­lock. Not just in her work­load – these days she is jug­gling 45 hours of train­ing a week with study­ing for A-lev­els in psy­chol­ogy, business and PE. But more in the way she is now per­ceived.

“It’s pretty crazy. At the Bri­tish Cham­pi­onships I had queues of peo­ple lin­ing up for me want­ing self­ies, I was there for hours. I tried to make sure I found time for them all and chat to them. Be­cause I used to be one of them. Peo­ple like Becky Downie and Beth Twed­dle, I’d be hang­ing around wait­ing for their au­to­graphs. Now I train with Becky. It’s un­real.”

Tin­kler first took to the floor as a two-year-old, dropped at the gym by her mother in an at­tempt to tire the ir­re­press­ible tod­dler out. She has barely left the floor since, relishing her time pro­gress­ing through the ju­nior ranks into the se­niors. Now at 17 she is, after Clau­dia Fra­ga­pane, the old­est mem­ber of a squad of teenaged hope­fuls out in Mon­treal.

“I don’t think I can give any­one ad­vice,” she said of her new role as se­nior com­peti­tor. “To be hon­est, I just tell the oth­ers to en­joy it. If you don’t en­joy it you’re not going to per­form at your best.”

The truth is, with the women’s side of Bri­tish gym­nas­tics less pro­duc­tive than the men’s in its de­liv­ery of ta­lent, she re­mains the best chance of medal suc­cess in Mon­treal. Which, she sug­gested, might be a lit­tle op­ti­mistic given her long lay-off.

‘Un­for­tu­nately my rou­tine isn’t 100 per cent what I’d like. You can’t train when you’re on crutches’

“Un­for­tu­nately my rou­tine isn’t 100 per cent what I’d have liked. The in­jury has held me back. You can’t train when you’re on crutches. I’ve only been train­ing for about seven weeks now.” And it is the lack of gym work, she ad­mit­ted, that will mean she will hit the floor in in­ter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion less pol­ished in her de­liv­ery than she was in Rio.

“The thing is, the skills are easy. I could take a year off gym and I’d be able to do the ba­sics. What I haven’t got so much is the mus­cle mem­ory. You need com­pe­ti­tion fit­ness that al­lows you to do the tough rou­tines. That comes from just do­ing them over and over.” But there is one thing she is de­ter­mined the break in rou­tine will not do: pre­vent her from en­joy­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of the com­pet­ing once more against the best in the world.

“I’m happy with where I’m at con­sid­er­ing where I was at the be­gin­ning of the year. If that’s good enough to get a medal, great. If it’s not, it’s not. There’s a rea­son.”

Action-packed: Amy Tin­kler jug­gles 45 hours’ train­ing per week with her stud­ies

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