Wednesday 17 January 2018

Captain of British Bronze winning gymnastics team tells story of his life in back tattoo

David Young

LOUIS Smith, the captain of Britain's triumphant men's gymnastic team, is trying to tell his life story in an evolving tattoo collage on his back.

After his and his teammates' heroics in the North Greenwich Arena there will be a new chapter to ink.

The bronze is the first medal for a British men's team for 100 years.

Smith, Sam Oldham, Max Whitlock, Kristian Thomas and Daniel Purvis hail from different backgrounds and have contrasting personalities.

But a love of their sport and a quest for Olympics glory united them when it came to the most important event of their lives.

Smith, 23, from Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, a bronze individual medallist in Beijing, was cast as one of the poster boys of this Olympics.

Through his performances, he has consistently proved he is much more than a pretty face.

Possessing a naturally outgoing personality, he has auditioned for The X Factor and made inroads towards creating his own fashion brand.

But the extra-curricular activities never took precedence over his over-riding ambition.

His coach Paul Hall has estimated that in the 16 years Smith has been training on the pommel horse, he must have encircled it one million times.

"Most mornings I wake up in pain," the team captain said in the build-up to the Games.

"I don't want to get out of bed because my body is so sore."

Smith, who trains at Huntingdon Gymnastics Club, won a bronze on the pommel horse at the 2008 Olympics.

He also finished in second place at the World Championships in Rotterdam in 2010 and was first at the World Cup in Paris last year.

Four years his junior, Nottingham gymnast Oldham has overcome a series of injuries and setbacks to shine in London.

He previously won a gold medal in the individual high bar in the Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010, along with a silver in the individual pommel horse in the same competition.

But a torn pectoral muscle saw him miss out on this year's European Championships, where Britain won their first ever team gold in a major championships.

He suffered the injury in world competition in Tokyo late last year where he competed despite a broken collarbone.

Also training out of Huntingdon, last year Oldham encapsulated why he puts his body through such pain.

"For me there's no better feeling than achieving that success, or what you've been dreaming about, with four or five other guys who have been dreaming of the same thing," he said.

Whitlock, from Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, is also just 19.

A member of the South Essex Gymnastics Club, he won a bronze on the pommel horse at the World Cup in Cottbus, Germany, earlier this year.

Two years ago he tasted team success, winning the silver medal for England in the gymnastics in the men's artistic all-around team event at the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

He also won the silver medal in the pommel horse and a bronze medal in the horizontal bar at the same games.

Before the final, Wolverhampton-born Thomas insisted the team was determined to seize the day.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we don't want to waste it," he said.

"We're going to enjoy everything about this."

The 23-year-old, who trains at Earls Gymnastics Club in Halesowen in the West Midlands, twice won silver in the floor exercise at the World Cup, and won bronze in the vault at this year's competition in Osijek, Croatia, in April.

Like many Liverpudlians, Purvis's first love was football.

But realising he was more nimble without a ball at his feet, his parents took him to a gymnastics club in Southport at the age of seven.

He never looked back.

The Crosby-born all-rounder came to international prominence in 2006 when he won gold in the parallel bars at the World Schools' Championships.

He would win a bronze medal in the floor event at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam and also came third in the all-around competition at the last two European Championships.

But he was to peak in Olympic year, winning gold in the floor exercise at the World Cup in Croatia, having already come first in the individual all-around in the World Cup held in Glasgow a year earlier.

There was a rather embarrassing blip in May when he ended up in the lap of a judge after losing his footing on a landing at the European Championships in France. While it made for popular viewing on YouTube, it did little to dint his confidence ahead of the Olympics.

"An Olympic medal is definitely a realistic target," he said ahead of the Games.

After a 100-year wait for a team medal for Britain's men, that target has finally been achieved.

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