Gymnastics: Beth Tweddle has cemented her reputation as Britain's most successful female gymnast with bronze in the uneven bars
Beth Tweddle takes bronze and a place in sporting history – but has no plans to slow down yet
It wasn't gold. But the crowd in North Greenwich Arena didn't care. Four years after a smallest of backwards steps deprived her of a podium position in Beijing, Beth Tweddle took bronze in the uneven bars cementing her reputation as Britain's most successful female gymnast.
At 27, the Liverpool-based athlete is considerably older than most of her fellow competitors and yesterday's final will almost certainly be her last Olympic appearance. But she can take heart from ending her career by becoming the first British woman to win an Olympic gymnast medal since 1928
Yet while an appearance at Rio is unlikely Tweddle has no intention of slowing down.
Speaking to The Independent her beaming parents Anne and Jerry said their daughter was now planning to indulge in a host of dangerous adrenaline sports.
“She's not going to stop immediately,” said Jerry, who encouraged his daughter to take up gymnastics at the age of seven because she was too energetic. “She's worked it out and she knows she'll have to wind down over some months. She's got a list of thing she wants to do like wing walking, bungee jumping, sky-diving, skiing – all the things she's not been allowed to do. But she's the sort of kid who wants to do those sort of things.”
Over the past decade Tweddle has almost single-handedly pioneered the resurgence in British gymnastics. She once recalled having to fight with Russian competitors to find some practice on the uneven bars before a match because Britain's gymnasts were dismissed as amateurs. She dramatically changed that view winning three golds at the world championships and a host of European medals.
Until today, however, the Olympic podium had always eluded her. In Beijing she was left heartbroken when a small step back following her dismount from the bars cost her dearly and she ended up coming fourth. She laid those ghosts to rest with a blistering performance on the uneven bars. Her dismount once more included a step back but it wasn't enough to cost her a podium position with Russia's Aliya Mustafina and China's He Kexin taking the gold and silver respectively.
When the scores came through Tweddle – a notoriously steely athlete – barely gave any reaction. It was only when she looked up to see her parents in the stands, waving the Union Jack that they first gave her when she won her first World Championships bronze in 2002, that the tears came.
“It just finishes my career perfectly,” she told reporters afterwards. “I've got every other title to my name and this was the one thing that was missing. I tried to say that it wouldn't have mattered if I'd walked away without it but I would have been devastated tonight walking away with no medal. I can sleep easy tonight.”
She explained how the dramatic successes of the British gymnast men's team on the pommel horse over the weekend had helped raise her morale as she prepared for her final. Both Lewis Smith and Max Whitlock turned up at the athletes village where she was staying clutching their silver and bronze medals.
It all could have been so different. Twelve weeks ago Tweddle never even thought she would make the Olympics. She tore a muscle in her knee and had to be rushed for keyhole surgery and has since been sleeping with a special machine that applied ice and compression around her knee.
“I won't be missing that,” she joked. “It can be quite noisy.”
Tweddle has not ruled out competing in future European or World Championships but she says her Olympic days are definitely over. She and her boyfriend Steve, who she met 18 months ago, are now planning a holiday away to celebrate their success.
“He had no idea who she was when they met,” admitted Tweddle's mother Anne. “His mum came down and asked him 'Why have you got Beth Tweddle in the kitchen?'”
There aren't many who will fail to recognise her now.
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