Less than three months remain until Joe Fraser is granted the opportunity to sport the famous Team GB emblem for the first time in six years, when a dazzling display in Tbilisi offered a glimpse of what was to come.
The now 22-year-old was named Great Britain’s flagbearer for the closing ceremony of the 2015 European Youth Summer Olympic Festival, after dominating the gymnastics competition in Georgia with three gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
Since then, Fraser has gone on to make his mark on the senior stage despite his tender years, winning GB’s first ever world title on the parallel bars in 2019 and warming up for a tilt at glory in Tokyo this summer with European pommel horse bronze in April.
But the Birmingham native still ranks that first taste of multi-event action among the highlights of his burgeoning career and is now more determined than ever to replicate such success while part of Team GB once again on sport’s greatest stage.
“Representing Great Britain in any competition is always special, and I remember feeling really proud to have the Team GB lion on my chest in Georgia,” said Fraser, who is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo.
“I remember approaching that competition as though it was a chance to show what we as a nation were capable of, and that’s exactly what I did. I think I was the most successful Team GB athlete at the festival, and that did give me an extra push in that period of my career.
“Going through those teenage years when you’re trying to balance school and sport can be difficult, but it made me realise that I definitely did want to do my best to keep both going at the same time.”
Twelve months on from his exploits in Tbilisi Fraser travelled to the Rio Olympics as part of Team GB’s ambitions programme and was soon immersed in a British Gymnastics setup that had leapt through the rankings following a breakthrough Games in London four years earlier.
And it is this period that Fraser credits with providing the platform towards senior stardom, turning his attention to an Olympic dream that he is now on the cusp of realising.
He said: “Me and my teammate Giarnni Regini-Moran went over to Brazil, which gave us a good insight into what a Games is like. Watching the all-around final and a bit of swimming, and seeing the athlete village, did motivate me more to try and get their next time.
“After Rio, my coach Lee [Woolls] sat the whole squad down and started talking to us about our routines heading towards Tokyo. It seemed miles away at the time, but starting that process then was key and I won my world gold with a routine Lee had written down three years before.
“I’d always dreamt of going to an Olympics but I knew then I had to do a lot more than I was doing to make it a reality. To be this close to a Games now is very exciting - it’s something I’ve trained 15 years for.”
Teammate Max Whitlock - who picked up two medals as Team GB reached the gymnastics podium four times on home soil at the London Games, and won two Olympic titles four years later - has also served as inspiration to Fraser.
And though Whitlock endured a somewhat disappointing European Championships Fraser is buoyed by the strength of the current GB gymnastics squad, with 16-year-old Jessica Gadirova shining brightest in Basel with three medals.
“I’ve been able to train and compete with Max since 2017, and the advice and guidance he’s given me has been second to none,” Fraser said.
“He played a big part in the rise of the GB squad - alongside the likes of Louis Smith, Sam Oldham and Kristian Thomas - before there was really a vision that it was doable, and they led the way.
“It’s very exciting looking at the wider squad now, and Jess is a big part of that. She’s incredible - to deliver like that in her first European Championships was amazing, and I still think there’s more to come from her, too.”
Fraser sees his podium finish in Switzerland as a step in the right direction ahead of Tokyo, and with some vital match sharpness gained he is clear it is full steam ahead towards the medal places where it matters most.
He added: “The Euros was our first competition since the first lockdown, so it was really good practice. I made mistakes and I know there is a lot of work still to be done, but I have taken a lot of positives from the competition.
“If I deliver the routines, I’ve been producing in training I’d definitely like to try and medal, in both the team and individual events.”
Joe Fraser is working with Purplebricks to encourage the nation to get behind Team GB on their journey to Tokyo, with the same amazing home support as London 2012. Visit @PurplebricksUK. To enter the draw to receive one of 2,020 limited edition prints, visit https://page.purplebricks.co.uk/teamgb_homesupport/
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