Daniel Keatings: 'I'm always thinking of 2012. It's time for my sport to take the spotlight'

Britain's best ever gymnastics team are in action this week. One of their rising talents tells Robin Scott-Elliot he's ready to shine
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The Independent Online

Sharing a green room with Matthew Hoggard is one sign of having made it, performing in front of seven million television viewers another altogether. When Daniel Keatings became the first Briton to win an all-round medal in a world championships last year it changed his life. Doing the same in London in 2012 would take it to a whole new level.

The next step towards that Olympic podium comes in Birmingham tomorrow when the European Championships begin (having been delayed by a day to allow extra travelling time), and this time Keatings – and a British team with more medal prospects than ever before – will have to deal with the added expectation of success in front of a home audience desperate to be enthused. Worthwhile British gymnasts have leapt from struggling to outnumber famous Belgians to the other old line about London buses as Keatings has followed Louis Smith, a bronze medallist in Beijing, on to the world stage.

Keatings' success in last year's worlds, winning silver in front of 10,000 at the O2, the Olympic venue, was easily the stellar achievement of his fledgling career and came as something of a surprise. The medal was supposed to come from Smith, Keatings' training partner and closest friend. Instead Keatings stepped into the spotlight.

"It was a revelation, such a good experience," says Keatings. "It was amazing – the crowd gave you a lift. At a national championship we get a few hundred watching but there it was 10,000. It was a great experience and we will have to get used to it ahead of 2012."

The 20-year-old, who was not expected to approach this level for another couple of years, has enjoyed getting used to it. There has been an appearance on A Question of Sport – "awesome!" – and then a live performance on BBC Sport Personality of the Year – "more nerve-racking than the worlds". And in between training, more training, the occasional Liverpool game and all the time the mental spur of London.

"It's been good fun, really," he says. "Gymnastics is not the most popular sport so it's good to get some time in the spotlight. 2012 is always in the back of your mind. You get excited just thinking about it. I know you have to keep the focus on the here and now, but my main aim is to get gold in 2012. At 22 I should be at my peak."

So too will Smith, whose medal in Beijing was Britain's first in gymnastics at an Olympics for 80 years. Keatings, who took up gymnastics aged five after his father was told he was too young for kick-boxing, trains alongside Smith in a gym in Huntingdon (that they share with a nursery school).

"We are the best of friends," he says. "I've known him since I was seven. We are like a family, really. We push each other – if I see him doing something it makes me want to try it. It is important to have someone of that standard to train with."

The two of them, like Beth Tweddle, are centrally funded, backed by UK Sport through training and subsistence grants. Keatings is a podium-level athlete – one thought good enough to win an Olympic medal – and so receives a living allowance of around £25,000. "Funding is so important," says Keatings. "It means we do not have to hold down full-time jobs as well. It's a really big weight off your mind not to have to worry about paying the bills."

For the Europeans, in which he won a silver last year, Keatings' aim is to reach two finals (he picks out the pommel and the parallel bars) and claim at least one medal. In Birmingham he will stick to the routines that succeeded in the O2 before returning to Huntingdon to polish new moves that will be unveiled at this year's world championships in Rotterdam in October.

The timing of the worlds means he will skip this autumn's Commonwealth Games, in which he would have competed for Scotland (he was born in Corby but represents his parents' home country), but that doesn't make for a less arduous schedule. Keatings competes or trains six days a week which leaves little time for anything else – such as trips to the cinema for the self-confessed movie buff. "It's difficult,"he says, "but I've got a target – to get that medal in London – and you have to put your dedication into the sport. You can go back to other things later in your life."

Britain's got talent

Louis Smith

Won Britain's first individual Olympic medal since 1908 when he took bronze in the pommel horse in Beijing. The 21-year-old once auditioned for X Factor.

Kristian Thomas

Born on Valentine's Day 1989, Thomas finished sixth in the all-round event at last year's world championships.

Daniel Keatings

Broke new ground when he won all-round silver at the worlds last year and is now one of the sport's leading men.

Beth Tweddle

At 25 – she was born on April Fool's Day – Tweddle, a double world champion, is Britain's veteran.