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
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