Gymnastics? Fantastic! Our man learns to love Lycra

Inspired by Olympic success, Simon Usborne joins Team GB's gym for the workout of his life

There has never been a better time for an inflexible 30-year-old with little shame to prance about Britain's most advanced gymnasium in a leotard. As the new heroes of the national team win medals in London, their base at the Lilleshall National Centre for Sport, Shropshire, is happily deserted. So I'm free to sweat, gurn and strain hitherto undiscovered muscles with only my teacher for the day to witness my humiliation. "Are you sure this is what the men wear?"

Neil Burton, a coach for more than 30 years, hands me my kit, which includes a leotard that looks like a girl's swimming costume. I squeeze in, take a deep breath (no choice) and step into a vast playground that has helped produce some of the greatest athletes ever to wear Lycra.

Tomorrow afternoon, Louis Smith will try to go two better than the bronze he won on the pommel horse in Beijing when the apparatus finals begin. He will be inspired by the improbable success of his men's team, who won a stunning bronze medal last Monday. To help me realise a fraction of what it takes to be a pro, Neil has agreed to put me through my paces. I should point out, as you look at these photos, that none of this was my idea, and that, until now, my forward roll would have have failed to trouble a scoreboard.

But I know what you're thinking. Men don't do the ribbon thing, do they? No, they don't. But, perhaps sensing a chance to further humiliate the sucker from London, a rhythmic gymnastics coach has thrust a six-metre strip of satin into my hand.

"Dis is not a spoooon!" shouts Daniela Nanova, a Bulgarian, as I attempt to twirl my ribbon. "You think you're eating spaghetti?!" If only, I think, before I make my wrist limp enough to coax the ribbon into a coil. "Yes!" Nanova booms.

Time for the more manly pursuits, I decide, adjusting my leotard. First up: the pommel horse. Neil wants me to try a double leg circle, those insane helicopter movements. The idea is to support your weight on straightened arms while swinging your legs around in a circle, moving your arms out of the way as they go. Except that you can't because it's bloody hard. "We'll try the bucket," says Neil. With my feet supported, I try again and just about manage a single circle before I collapse. Louis Smith can do these on a single handle for as long as he wants.

After a session on the floor, where I pull off my first ever cartwheel, I leap from a vault into a pit filled with foam blocks before having a bounce on the trampoline. I'm having fun. It's like the best ever children's birthday party without the children or the sick. To finish, however, Neil guides me to the rings where I attempt what looks like the most physically demanding position of all: the Iron Cross.

With the help of a harness and pulleys that halve my weight, I manage to hold myself with arms outstretched for the minimum two seconds before it feels as if my eyes might bleed.

Neil charitably tells me he's impressed with my performance but says gymnastics isn't only about superhuman feats. "There's a lot more than what you see on television," he says as I catch my breath. "You've had a sneaky peak at the breadth of it, but there's something for everyone, whatever your level." Over to you.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup