Gymnastics: Tweddle's great year ends on a high note

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The Independent Online

Beth Tweddle rounded off a fantastic year with victory on the uneven bars at the World Cup final here on Saturday.

Tweddle, 21, who became the first British woman to win a world title in October, scored 16.300 on the uneven bars to edge out China's Li Ya, who had 16.225. Ukraine's Dariya Zgoba was third with 15.150.

"I'm very happy with this result, especially being the last event of a very good year for me," she said.

It did indeed complete a memorable year for the Johannesburg-born, Cheshire-raised gymnast, who in April become the first Briton to strike gold at the European Championships - before becoming the first from this country to win a world title when she won on the uneven bars in Aarhus in October. She then came third in the BBC's sports personality of the year which was won by Zara Phillips.

The Commonwealth champions Louis Smith and Imogen Cairns came fifth and seventh in the pommel horse and the vault respectively.

That Tweddle - who trains with her coach Amanda Curbishley at the City of Liverpool Gymnastics Club - has achieved so much is a testament to her resilience after injury problems, and she contemplated retiring after being ruled out of this year's Commonwealth Games with a serious ankle injury.

And she has taken inspiration from the likes of Paula Radcliffe and Sally Gunnell, who battled back from lengthy lay-offs.

"I remember watching the 1992 Olympics with Sally Gunnell, Colin Jackson and Linford Christie and more recently Kelly Holmes and Paul Radcliffe," she said. "I've seen the injuries those sort of top people have gone through and how they have coped, came back and were successful."

She has said that she will almost certainly bow out of after the 2009 World Championships in London.

"The only other thing that would be equal to this year would be an Olympic gold - or some sort of Olympic medal in 2008," she said. "If I continue to develop and things go well, then hopefully that can happen. But two years is a long time for a gymnast. I am just taking every step as it comes. If I stay injury-free and still love the sport, hopefully I'll be there in 2008."

Tweddle is finally tasting success after becoming known for her competitive misfortunes. At the 2005 Europeans, she qualified in second place for the all-around and had the potential to win a medal in all four event finals, but she injured herself during the competition and had to withdraw, leaving with nothing. At the 2005 Worlds, she injured her knee immediately before the bars finals.

While she competed in the event and won a medal, she had to withdraw from the floor competition the next day. And then there was her withdrawal from this year's Commonwealth Games. Now, though, all that is behind her.