Gymnastics: At last, Tweddle is a British gymnast who can clear bars

Beth's gold rush brings welcome relief and revitalises a flagging pursuit

For Beth Tweddle, 2006 has been what might be described in gymnastic terms as the Perfect Ten. She became the European champion, world champion and, last weekend, World Cup champion in Brazil, confirming not only her global supremacy but her status as the best gymnast ever produced in this country. Moreover, all three gold medal performances were won with record high scores for the women's competition on the uneven bars.

She probably would have claimed the Commonwealth Games title to complete the sport's grand slam had she not been injured on the eve of the event. It seems a valid argument that hers has been the outstanding sporting achievement of the year, accomplished as it was without assistance from a horse or a bike. Yet the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award eluded her, though perhaps the ultimate screen accolade comes next month with an appearance on A Question of Sport.

This suggests that the 21-year-old Tweddle and her sport have arrived and, more importantly, expectations are genuinely high that at last Britain may have someone who can beat the Russians, Romanians and Chinese at their own game and strike gold for the first time in Beijing.

It is 34 years since Olga Korbut enticed the world to switch on to gymnastics, and despite the limited television exposure it receives in this country outside the Olympics, its allure has esc-alated, and those who regularly pack the arenas have witnessed a sporting revolution. It used to be a sport which thanked heaven for little girls; now they get bigger with every Games. The days of the gaunt-faced, anorexic, pre-pubescent pixie have gone.

Amanda Kirby, Tweddle's mentor, who was voted sport's female coach of the year, explains there is more emphasis on athleticism and strength. "The sport hasn't really changed, neither have the skills required. But the training workload has," she says. "The time when young gymnasts were all skin and bone has passed. Now you need all-round fitness and a bit more muscle."

Although "Tweds" is by no means as coquettish as Korbut nor as cute as Comaneci, the proliferation of youngsters doing their fling in leisure centres around the country, and the burgeoning home-grown talent, suggest that here is an icon whose progress to the top of the podium is at least partially responsible for the sport coming on in such leaps and bounds.

As a tot, Tweddle was always hanging around. Or rather, hanging upside down, from banisters and bedposts in her Cheshire village home. So her parents took the seven-year-old to a local gymnastics club "to get rid of my excess energy".

Determination has always been the name of her game. The line between perfection and pain is as delicately balanced as a pair of feet on the beam, and over the years she has had to bounce back from various mishaps, including breaking an ankle and being knocked out and hospitalised after a fall.

She has been coached by Kirby since 1997 at the City of Liverpool club in the unlikely gymnastics inner-city hotspot of Toxteth, where they usually fall out of bars rather than balance on them. "Amanda knows me inside out," says Tweddle. "We are together at least four hours a day, six days a week. In between training I do my university course work or see my boyfriend, Dave, although that isn't very often. Fortunately he understands this is my life, and for me it is 24/7.

"Gymnastics is a much tougher sport than it seems. It may all look very pretty but it is about hard graft. The strength and the different skills you have to apply are as demanding as any other sport, probably more than most. There's more to it than just knocking a ball around. I love the feeling of being able to fly. My body is on autopilot for 30 seconds. Where else can you do that and have complete control?

"But sometimes I get very frustrated, and I'm always being told by Amanda to calm down. I tend to sit and sulk, or pull a face, if I don't get it right. That's when Amanda tells me to sort out my face and get on with it."

Tweddle has no cheesy celeb aspirations. She is studying biology and physics, and wants to be a physiotherapist, and the fact that she is not just a pretty face or a lissom body can be gauged from the title of her dissertation, which she completes next May: "Physiological and Anthropometrical Parameters in Elite and Non-Elite Gymnastics".

She says life has been "pretty crazy" since winning the World Championship. "The great thing about winning is that all the hard work over so many years paid off. Although there are still two years to go before Beijing, it has strengthened my resolve to win the gold. Although basically I will be meeting the same competitors, there will be more pressure at the Olympics because of the atmosphere and the expectation."

She says she has not changed her mind about retiring before the 2012 Olympics. "I'll simply be too old by then. What I hope is that winning the World Championship will inspire other young gymnasts, and there are some really good ones coming along aged 12 to 14. These are the kids we should be looking at for 2012."

After what has hardly been a vintage year, brightened by a touch of girl power, British sport can be heartened that finally it is swinging on a star.

Shoppers at Selfridges department store in central London

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game