This country has never been truly outstanding in the art of twisting and turning elegantly. Doing cartwheels or U-turns when it comes to Government policy, maybe; gymnastics hardly ever. Ask the man in the street what Britain's greatest ambition would be at the National Exhibition Centre this week and the reply would probably be on the lines of 'they all return safely'.
For moments it appeared that aim might have been over-optimistic. Manchester's Marvin Campbell landed painfully making a triple back-somersault dismount on his last discipline, the high bar, and had to be helped from the arena. Later Paul Bowler, another Mancunian, came off apparatus twice, on each occasion landing heavily on his neck and upper back. Officials say we are now in the 'First Division' of the sport, to the uninitiated yesterday it looked as though we were about to be relegated.
On this occasion apearances were misleading. Campbell not only recovered quickly once X-rays revealed he had not broken anything in his ankle, he finished a mid-table 23rd on the first day of qualifying. Bowler, his marks suffering for his falls from the rings and high bar, was a respectable 30th that included the ninth best vault of the day.
The fact that Bowler was disappointed - 'unless you get six routines without mishap you're unhappy' - carried the implication that Britain expects more these days. 'Gymnastics has been on the up in this country since September 1991 when we qualified for the Olympic team competition.' Had he hurt himself when he fell? 'We train for 28 hours a week. We're made up of muscle bulk. No.'
Campbell, meanwhile, was explaining how his crash landing had happened. 'I was thinking about getting my knees together, it looks more elegant, and I lost track of my height and rotation. I spent the rest of the three somersaults trying to work out where I was.' He landed on his feet, it could have been on his head.
While the British mishaps had camouflaged what had been a reasonable performance, Valeri Balenki was giving a full frontal exhibition as to why he is among the favourites. Only half the field performed yesterday so the first place secured by Belenki's 55.65 points was slightly deceptive but he will be there or thereabouts when the full list is compiled today.
Results, Sporting Digest, page 31Reuse content