Commonwealth Games: Small is beautiful as Reeder sets England gold standard: 14-year old signals breakthrough in games

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The Independent Online
ANNIKA REEDER became the youngest, shortest and lightest English athlete to win an individual gold medal in the Commonwealth Games when she took the floor exercises in the gymnastics here on Monday. The 14-year-old also sported probably the biggest smile in Canada as she did a jig of delight around the arena.

The builder's daughter from Loughton, Essex, beat England's team captain, Jacqueline Brady, by almost a tenth of a point. 'This is the greatest day of my life,' said Reeder as she rushed to ring her mother.

But celebrations were confined to a plate of pasta and a soft drink for the schoolgirl who is 4ft 6in tall and weighs 5st 1lb. The next big competition for Reeder, who excels in the acrobatic, dance and tumble aspects of the discipline, is the World Championships in Dortmund in November.

It was in 1972 at the Munich Olympics that Olga Korbut captured the imagination of the world. Gymnastics for girls is now more popular than baseball in the United States, according to a television poll. It was the most watched event at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Like most sports, since the collapse of the Soviet empire it has opened up to give British athletes more chance. 'This is a huge breakthrough day for British gymnastics,' said Walduck, director and head coach of the Heathrow Gym Club.

Reeder, who took up the sport as a four-year-old, spends six hours a day, 30 hours a week in the gymnasium. She was the Weetabix young gymnast of the year in 1991 and this year finished seventh in the European Championships. 'She has a great future,' Walduck said. 'She has a remarkably cool head for a 14-year-old girl. She excels in performance. She has a Wayne Sleep quality in her ability to put her display across.'

Reeder's victory could represent a changing of the guard in British gymnastics because Neil Thomas, the Commonwealth gold and world silver medallist, is considering his future after these Games. 'I've been at this for a long time, and right now I work my gymnastics in with my university studies as best I can,' he said.

Peter Richardson, the English light-welterweight, gave one of the best performances of the boxing tournament when he beat Canada's Jamie Pagendam 21-17. Richardson, who fought in the Barcelona Olympics, now takes on Daniel Fulanse, the Zambian who beat Wales' Andy Robinson.

David Gilmour, the Scottish No 1 badminton player, will take no further part in the Games after being detained in hospital with a back injury. Gilmour first felt the injury while losing in last week's team event. The medication he was given made him physically sick, worsening the injury.

(Photograph omitted)

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