While Great Britain were claiming a historic first ever team gold at the European Championships last Saturday, one spectator was sat at home with very mixed emotions.
Daniel Keatings was forced to miss the Championships in Montpellier due to an ankle injury that would hurt him on two fronts. Not only was he unable to compete with the close-knit team who train together throughout the year, but he also missed an opportunity to compete ahead of the fast approaching London Olympics.
“When I found out about the injury it did have a big effect on me but it was a decision made by me, my coach and our technical director,” admits the gymnast who was just 18 when he competed in Beijing. “I soon picked myself up and realised it was a good decision as it will help me concentrate on qualifying for the Olympics in the upcoming events.”
The 22-year-old was a member of the team that had struggled so badly in last year’s World Championships in Tokyo where their combined effort left them in 10th place. It was a disappointing performance for the team who had been expected to challenge for medals, and in doing so, sealed qualification for the Olympics.
This was a major setback for all involved and led to a Christmas that was less about Turkey dinners and lethargic afternoons. Instead it meant a holiday season spent incessantly practicing the intricacies of their routines which could make that decimal point of difference.
“After the Tokyo World’s everyone got really down as we had a bad competition but everyone picked themselves up and we trained right over Christmas and felt confident going into the test event. To then put in a result like that, where everyone put in a near perfect display, provided us with a massive boost and everyone was a on a high.”
The performance at London’s O2 Arena meant that Britain would have the maximum number of gymnasts – two teams of five, plus reserves – at the Games. It was also the second time that Keatings had excelled at the stunning venue in Greenwich.
His display at the 2009 Artistic World Championships earned him a silver medal in the all-around event and ensured his name went into the record books as the first Brit to earn a medal. This success is still fresh in Keating’s mind so does he feel as though competing at the O2 Arena will be a good omen?
“Winning that silver medal was absolutely amazing and the test event was massive as well. I do feel as though it’s my lucky arena so hopefully at the Olympics it can be lucky one more time,” answers Keatings with a broad smile on his face.
While Keating’s continues to talk about the upcoming Olympics it is not lost on either of us that he must still qualify. Fortunately he still has three qualifying events in which to cement his place in the squad that is due to be announced on July 14. It will be an anxious month-and-a-half for the gymnast born in Kettering but he speaks with utter confidence that he will once again be selected as part of Team GB.
“It has been impossible to ignore the hype around the Olympics and my coach has literally been counting down the days,” says Keating, echoing the sentiments of millions of Brits. “Everyone is talking to about it and people are actually sopping me in the street to ask how everything is going. It is getting really exciting, but nerve wracking at the same time.”
Ever since Keatings’ good friend, and team-mate, Louis Smith won Britain’s first individual medal at the Olympics since Walter Tysall exactly 100 years before him, the sport of gymnastics has been enjoying a golden era. The team gold at the European Championships was not the only success for Great Britain as the junior squad added team gold to the silver earned by Nile Wilson and the gold picked up by Frank Baines.
With the two teams all training together there is a genuine camaraderie among the athletes as they strive to achieve perfection. Working as two separate groups they compete against each other in what is a friendly but competitive atmosphere.
“From Louis’ medal in Beijing to my medal at the World’s, there has been a massive confidence boost. Our junior boys are doing so well and it just makes kids at grass roots want to get involved in the sport.”
Keatings may have previously enjoyed success in the all-around event but it is the pummel horse in which he specialises. This also happens to be the same discipline in which Smith is considered one of the top competitors in the world. The Olympic bronze medalist finished second in Montpellier and is one of the favourites going into London.
However, Keatings is glad to have the competition from Smith as he believes it helps him improve.
“It is great to be training along with Louis as he certainly helps me. I’d love to do well in the pummel horse and it is certainly my goal if I manage to qualify for the Olympics.”
With two athletes continually challenging each other it can only be good for British gymnastics. In a perfect world the duo will combine in London to help Team GB win their first team medal since the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.
Dan Keatings is an ambassador of the Bupa and UK Sport partnership. Over the last decade, Bupa has covered more than 29,000 treatments for Britain’s elite athletes. For more information visit www.bupa.com/uksport