Sports acrobatics: The flying squad hit the heights

Britain's acrobats revel in the goldrush as they aim to keep their sport on the world map

IF the National Lottery requires evidence of what it can do for the cause of athletics excellence in Britain it might care to subpoena sports acrobatics. It is an unwieldy and unglamorous name at odds with the beauty of the skills needed to perform it well and it has been not so much a poor relation in the sporting scheme of things as an outcast.

It has also provided Britain with five gold medals from this year's World Championships and a ranking of third in the world. These are unprecedented riches and it would almost certainly not have happened without lottery funding. "It has meant that I didn't have to get a job and could concentrate solely on training and improving," said Lucy Pascoe. "Working as well would have made it impossible to fulfil the early morning and evening training sessions. All of us owe the Lottery a lot."

Lucy and her partner, Nicole Cotterell, repaid some of the debt at the Minsk championships by becoming the first British women's pair to win gold. Their success came in the tempo category which involves a startling array of jumping, leaping, throwing and catching between one partner and the other, not to mention a huge amount of mutual trust.

Pascoe, 19, and Cotterell, 14, were hardly alone. Neil Griffiths and Rebecca Law won two golds and a silver in the mixed pairs, including the overall gold, and Martyn Smith and Mark Flores took two golds in the men's pairs. Craig Filmer's silver in a dramatic display in the men's tumbling was almost an anti-climax.

Like all minor sports, at least in Britain, sports acrobatics has struggled for both cash and recognition. The Lottery has overcome one of those shortages and the resulting triumphs should help with the other. It is a graceful, delicate discipline which has been practised for 25 years as a branch of gymnastics. From next year it will benefit in world terms by coming under the umbrella of the International Gymnastics Federation. That is likely to lead to the holy grail of Olympic recognition.

If it has been a well-kept secret among its practitioners so far it has potential to appeal to a wider audience. Since the days when Olga Korbut melted British hearts the captivating, supple beauty of gymnastics has not been doubted and sports acrobatics is more spectacular. It is divided into two categories: balance, in which competitors are expected to go through a range of set moves requiring unlikely contortions; and tempo, which at its most fluent brings to mind the old ditty: "She flew through the air with the greatest of ease, the sprightly young lady bending her knees."

"Opportunities are opening up for the sport not just here but all over the world," said Alison Cooper. "We can build on Minsk and get more young people involved. There's no reason why we can't go on from here and keep winning world titles. They know now that British competitors are a force."

Cooper and her husband Bob are not only the leading British coaches but evangelists for the event. They had the determination and vision to build their own gymnasium in Ashford, Middlesex, and now have plans for a specialist arena dedicated solely to sports acrobatics.

As a pair they clearly have different strengths in coaching terms. Bob may be more technical but Alison clearly commands the devotion of her charges. "There are bad days, of course, but they know that to get as far as they want they have to work. Equally it has to be training of quality. We have worked out that 22 hours a week of training is enough for optimum performance. We went up to 26 at one time and found performance dropping off. Proper rest is vital."

The success of acrobatics begs the question of why Britain lags so far behind in conventional gymnastics. Alison Cooper suspects that it may be down to an inflexible approach but also cites the team spirit her sport engenders and the likelihood of a longer career.

Lucy Pascoe, for example, did not take up the sport till she was 15 and four years on would be ending her career as a rhythmic gymnast. But as the standing part of her partnership she can expect to continue for several more years. The sprites who are are thrown and tumble through the air may grow but they can then become a different part of a pair or trio.

It is diverting stuff as a single session in Ashford last week demonstrated and the payments of pounds 15,000 or a so a year to elite competitors have made future advancement a definite prospect. Of course, Britain being Britain, it has not got it quite right. "The competitors are getting funds which is marvellous," said Pascoe. "But the coaches aren't, so who do they think is going to help us to improve?"

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
News
i100 Charity collates series of videos that show acts of kindness to animals
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

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