Dominick Cunningham can rightly claim to be a man of many talents.
He’s a world-class gymnast but also a petrol head, a motocross rider, an ice-skater and a trainee stuntman; a whirlwind of hyperactive energy with a mouth that keeps pace with his body.
He also likes to make a shrewd buck; a Spiderman for hire (in full costume) for kids’ parties, a revamper of anything with half a chassis, and even a designer and purveyor of leotards when a stop was put to his gallop during Covid.
He is the quintessential cheeky chap, posting multiple videos on his social media of spectacular training pratfalls and tricks, like doing handstands on cantering horses and his late grandfather’s walking frame.
A video of him scoring a basketball shot off a flip at the halfway line went viral on US television and a photograph of him training in stables during lockdown, when he struggled badly to access a gym, got similar attention in Britain.
The latest string to his multi-faceted bow is media work, as a particularly livewire in-house gymnastics’ presenter at the recent Commonwealth Games in his native Birmingham.
That’s a job usually done by retired athletes, but he hasn’t finished yet.
The 27-year-old won Commonwealth team gold with England in 2018 (and individual bronze on vault) but wasn’t involved this time because he has recently switched allegiance to compete for Ireland, for whom he will debut at the European Championships in Munich tomorrow.
Lockdowns and injuries saw Cunningham miss out on Tokyo Olympic selection and struggle to keep pace in Britain’s ultra-competitive elite system.
He says he first spoke to Gymnastics Ireland about his eligibility in 2015 and that British Gymnastics selection policies and the Whyte Review (into allegations of mistreatment and mismanagement) all contributed to his switch.
“It wasn’t healthy for me. I was really struggling. I just don’t want to finish my career missing out on teams or getting injured because I’ve had a good career. I want to enjoy my gymnastics now.”
Growing up in a strong Irish-Birmingham community, his roots have always been important and he played Gaelic football in his youth.
“My dad’s fully Irish, he’s from Carlow, his dad was from Carlow and his mum was from Cork. The main thing is for my dad, to see him and his family talk that bit more about it.
“It brings back some good memories. He’s always been proud of me but now, when I say I’m going over to Ireland, I see his face light up.”
Cunningham’s switch is not just a big boost to Irish gymnastics – especially as they are hoping to secure team qualification to the World Championships in Munich – but surely greatly enlivens collective training at the National Gymnastics Centre in Abbotstown.
Yet ‘Dom’ stresses that he trains just as hard as he plays, as his record attests. He was European champion on the floor in 2018 and only missed out on a bronze on the vault at the 2018 World Championships by 0.009.
He trained daily despite his recent media role at the Commonwealth Games.
“I was there from like 6.30am to about 8.30pm, then I had to drive an hour and a half to go to the gym. I’d be getting home at 1am and then start my day again at 6am. It was rough, it battered me but I needed to do it.”
Mention that another Irish-Birmingham showman Jack Grealish also played a bit of GAA and he muses on how different their sporting lives are.
“You’ve seen what we do. We’re breaking bones left, right and centre and are paid pennies for it. I’m not saying their sport is easier, I know how hard football is.
“But when you see them getting all that money you’re like, ‘Oh, I’d happily get slide-tackled and roll around for a little bit’.”
He is deadly serious about becoming a stunt man, getting qualifications and experience already in drifting (driving), horse-riding, boxing and MMA, with scuba diving next on his ‘must-do’ list.
But right now, competing for Ireland is his focus.
“We’re not doing anything spectacular, just going for nice, clean routines to qualify for World Championships.
“I’m coming back from surgery on both my ankles and I want my future to start here.
“Ireland actually has quite a strength and depth of field now. We have nothing to prove but we’re going to prove that we are good.”