With the Christmas and New Year holidays coming to a close, how many of us really look forward to getting back to work? And do you really give 100% and reach your full potential? We caught up with Olympic Gymnast Beth Tweddle, MBE about her enjoyment of gymnastics and her success.
Beth Tweddle MBE was born 1 April 1985 in Johannesburg, South Africa and moved with her family to Bunbury, Cheshire, England when she was 18 months old. After trying several different sports, Tweddle began competing in gymnastics at the age of seven at Crewe and Nantwich Gymnastics Club. In 1997, she moved to the City of Liverpool Gymnastics Club to train with coach, Amanda Reddin OBE. Tweddle was the first female gymnast from Great Britain to win a medal at the European Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games.
As Britain’s greatest ever-female gymnast, Beth’s impressive achievements include being an Olympic Bronze Medalist, a triple World Champion, a six-time European Champion, a Commonwealth Champion and seven-times consecutive National Champion.
Along with her unrivalled success Beth has competed at three Olympic Games: Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012 – where she won Bronze in the Uneven Bars. Since starting out at the age of seven, Beth has helped to reinvent British gymnastics and her achievements place her in the ‘greatest of all time’ category within her sport.
Can you tell us a little about your early live and how you got into gymnastics?
I was a very active child so my parents decided quite early on that sport was the way to use up my energy. I tried lots of different sports – ballet, swimming, horse riding, athletics, hockey. Then my dad’s friend’s daughters did gymnastics and they suggested to my dad as they saw me upside down a lot that I should try gymnastics and that’s where it all started. I wasn’t the biggest fan at first until I did my first competition when I realised that it was the one sport that I loved.
Does a person’s size and stature have anything to do with getting into gymnastics?
No, I think our sport has changed so much over the past 10-15 years. A lot of people remember that back in the day it was a sport where young 16 year olds only who competed, but recently in the championships I’ve seen a 42 year old. We have changed and developed for the good catering for all different ages and size.
You’re a three-times Olympian and won over 20 gold medals in your career. What does it take to compete in 3 Olympics, world championships, national championships and commonwealth games? What is it that takes to have that drive?
I think the biggest thing is to love your sport. I think that was the one thing that allowed me to continue. I never saw it as a chore; I just loved what it did every day. There’s a lot of hard work and determination required as well as being able to pick yourself from bad results. My mum always described it that if I had a bad result, I would almost put it in a box and shut the lid on it and move the box to one side. I learned from bad results but within 24 hours I was more determined to find out ‘how do I fix it and how do I get better’
Do you get taught that? I have heard of techniques where people write on a bit of paper their problems, screw the paper up and throw it away to help them move on.
I didn’t get taught it. I think from a young age I was quite strong willed and quite stubborn much to my parents delight (not!). I think it was within me but I had a lot of help and support around me to help me overcome disappointments. My coach, Amanda Reddin, was integral within my career and the way she approached competitions helped how I reacted to them. The only thing she would say to me before a competition was ‘do what you’ve been doing in the gym’. There was no higher expectation and she didn’t suddenly expect me to achieve a score that we’d not got all season. She would never allow me to compete with a routine that she hadn’t seen me complete a number of times in the gym. She was always confident of what she was putting forward and that expectation was to ‘do what you do’. She never put that expectation of ‘I need you to score a certain score’ or ‘you’ve got to win this competition’. I think that had a huge and positive impact on me because the pressure that was put on me was only by myself.
Which of your parents do you think you take after most when you say you were stubborn?
I think it would have to be my dad! I was definitely a ‘daddy’s girl’ when I was younger and having that stubbornness definitely comes from him and his side of the family.
All Olympics are special. However, winning an Olympic medal in your own country must be doubly special. How was the London Olympics compared to the others?
Competing in any Olympics is a special moment but if your country is hosting the Olympic Games then that is the ultimate dream. When I did that at Athens and Beijing, it was amazing but having it on home soil, in front of the home crowd, that buzz and that noise and those crowds… it was just unbelievable. I will never forget walking into that arena and having that atmosphere. Every World Championships and Olympic Games is great but it really was at a different level for the Olympic Games in London.
In our sport you do hear the crowds on certain pieces of apparatus but once you are up there, you go into your own space. When I competed in 2009, during the bar routine I fell off half way through. I just remember the crowd clapping and cheering me and I’m thinking ‘I’ve just fallen off, why are you clapping and cheering me?!’ But they do; they pick you up and give you that boost. Walking into that arena in 2012, I’d hardly even stepped into the arena and the cameras had caught me on the big screen and the crowds just went mental. I just got goosebumps and it was ‘oh my God… oh my God!’ it was amazing.
There are obviously a lot of physical demands, especially when you’ve trained really hard but then you get injured. What injuries have you had and how have you dealt with it?
Unfortunately injuries are just part of elite sports – in fact it’s part of all sport even if you are doing club level, school level and even PE. People do pick up injuries. I picked up an injury 100 days prior to London 2012 and it did feel like my world was crashing down round me. It was ‘how can you have trained another four years to go to an Olympic Games and then 100 days before ‘the dream’ is going to come true, you’re having surgery?’
I reacted to it the same way I reacted to a disappointment in competition. Amanda was a big part of that journey. I remember speaking to her that night and all she said was ‘it’s not the first time you’ve been injured and certainly won’t be the last time you’ll be injured. We’ll do everything we can to help you get back fit’. For the first 24 hours I was feeling sorry for myself and thinking ‘why me?’ but after 24 hours I was having the operation. I woke up from the operation and literally started my rehab straight away, kept my head down and I looked at the positives.
Having a coach who can identify what individuals need must be great?
Definitely and I do credit Amanda a lot, especially with continuing for so long. I was one of the first on the international scene that continued into my 20s but it was because of that relationship with Amanda. She knew I wasn’t that little girl anymore and I had a life away from gymnastics. She was encouraging of me having that life away from gymnastics whether it was educational or just the social aspect of going out with my friends. For my first week at university she said she didn’t want to see me other than to do some conditioning – she wanted me to have the week to enjoy myself. She set the precedent of ‘I understand you need that life away from gymnastics as well’.
Tell me what inspired you to set up the Beth Tweddle Gymnastics?
I’ve always loved working with kids and I always knew that I couldn’t leave gymnastics completely so how do you combine both aspects. Not many people can get up each day and say that they love the job they do. Steve Parry who was an Olympic bronze medal swimmer back in 2004 had already set up a swimming company, Total Swimming, he’d retired shortly after Athens and he told me his story of how Total Swimming came about and making the jump from elite athlete to the real world and asked me if I wanted to do something similar with gymnastics. That’s really where the idea came from. I never dreamt it would be as big as it is now; we started off with 20 children in Speke in Liverpool and now we have just over 3,000 children a week doing gymnastics after school. It’s not elite level but it is 100% focused on participation. If we then spot a talent or a parent speaks to us and would like to take it further, then we obviously point them in the right direction of a competitive. The main focus is to show them why I loved my sport.
Do you still keep in touch, or are still involved with British Gymnastics and does it have a role?
I’ve got a great relationship with them. They did so much for me throughout my career and my programme is endorsed by them and we’re in partnership with them. It’s great that I’ve been able to keep that relationship up with them. Amanda is now the National Coach for the Senior Women’s Team so there is still a strong connection and I go to most of the major events, although it’s now mainly for TV and media. It is great to still have an active role in it.
You were shortlisted for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards in 2006 – the only British gymnast to be shortlisted in fact – and you finished 3rd. How did that feel?
Do you know, it was such a bizarre experience because I’d just won the world title; it was the first year they took it out of the TV Centre and put it into an arena based setting so that the public could be there. They came up with this idea of ‘do you fancy doing a bar routine?’. I’ve competed in front of thousands of people at a World Championships but to be suddenly performing at Sports Personality of the Year Award ceremony was quite a bizarre situation because at the side of the bars would normally be clear but here and you’ve got Gary Lineker and Sue Barker just stood there, waiting for you to perform.
I was pleased to be in the top ten but I never dreamt that I would come third so it was quite a surprise when my name was read out. My family were all there with made it a very special night.
Sticking with awards, in 2010 you received your MBE. How did that feel and what was it like receiving your award?
My mum got the letter telling me I’d been given the award as it went to my parents’ house and I’d moved out by then. She would always let me know if I had any post and would normally just say that she’d forward it on to me. This time, she was ‘you’ve got a really important letter!’ I said ‘that’s great, just forward it on’ and she replied ‘no, no, Beth, you’ve got a really important letter’. I said to her that she’d better open it then and she then just started screaming on the phone – I asked ‘what’s going on? Let me in on the secret!’ She then just screamed ‘you’ve got an MBE but you’re not allowed to tell anyone!!’ I was ‘oh, well, that’s out the bag now then!’
On the day itself I was so nervous. They give you these instructions to take so many steps forward and to your left…. do this… do that and I was ‘oh my God, oh my God, I’m going to forget all of that’. I received the award from Prince Charles and he asked me about the competition that had just taken place recently. It was really fun!
You’ve done a couple of TV competition shows – Dancing on Ice and The Jump – what led you to do TV work?
I’d always wanted to try new stuff but being a gymnast and having been in competitions pretty much all year round, you don’t want to do stuff where you risk getting injured. Two weeks after the Olympic Games I was wing walking and had planned a skydive because I knew that I didn’t have another competition coming up. I’d always had that aspiration to try lots of different things. I’d always watched Dancing on Ice and seen it and thought it looked fun doing all the tricks. A call came in literally a week after the Games and I spoke to my coach about it. She said I’d got nothing to lose and I should go for it and she thought it would do me good to have a different focus away from gymnastics. Even though I was still training, I signed up for the show but it was always with the support of my federation and Amanda. I just loved it; it was really difficult. Everyone said that because I’m a gymnast that I’d got that natural ability but, actually with skating, the technique is slightly forward with bent knees whereas with gymnastics, you have a straight posture and straight legs. As soon as I was in trouble, I went to that posture which is the worst thing you can do on skates because you just end up flying backwards. Being on Dancing on Ice taught me that I could step away from elite level sport and it was a great experience. I loved learning something new and I got to meet loads of different people.
You got married in June 2019. Has this changed your life and if so, how?
I don’t think it changes your life. Andy and I have been together 5-6 years now and he just gets me and lets me be the muppet I am at times. He understands that gymnastics is my passion and my love for the work I do. Obviously I don’t have a normal 9-5 job, so quite often I can be away for weeks at a time for TV work, then all over the country doing school visits. He just understood that and we get on so well. My wedding in June was amazing; everyone said it is an amazing day but until you actually do it, it’s more than I could have imagined. Having all your family and friends there to celebrate with you is really great.
You do a lot for charity. What inspired you to become Patron of the Alder Hey Children’s Hospital?
I think it is that passion of working with children. Alder Hey is an amazing hospital and I’ve been there a few times to either visit, or, unfortunately, to see friends that have been in there. The way they handle every situation is incredible and when they asked me to be a patron, it was a no-brainer and straight away I said ‘of course I will’ The other charity it links closely to is Claire House which is a hospice on the Wirral. A lot of their children are obviously attending Alder Hey as well so between those two, I was just very passionate about being able to help children. It’s an awful time for the parents if their children are in there but for me it is about how I can raise funds to make it the best experience it can be.
I’ve read that you are a keen football fan. Football has come a long way in the last 10 years. If you were at school now, do you think you would become a female football player?
Do you know, I’m actually a bit of a wuss… I don’t know that I’d like the thought of being kicked and having to go in for the tackles. I’ve never really thought about it before but, of all the sports I tried, a lot of them were individual sports and I’m not sure whether that’s just pure coincidence. Because I’ve done an individual sport for so long, it would be bizarre – although I loved being part of the team and you still had that team element – but it must be a very different situation to be part of that team of eleven players. Once I was out there performing, ultimately you are on your own. So I’m not sure if I’d have played football.
What advice on life would you give anyone?
Enjoy! Enjoy whatever you are doing because if you enjoy it, then you will give 100%. Just believe in yourself because if you don’t believe in yourself it will be hard for others to.
Editor in Chief