Four years ago gymnast Adam Cox walked out of the Scotland team for the Commonwealth Games on the eve of departure for Delhi. With that went our chance of the gold medal in the men’s high bar and, so Cox thought, his career.
But here he is back in the squad and he reckons it’s the strongest ever assembled for gymnastics by Scotland. What can we do? Six or seven medals, he thinks, with a chance of the top team prize against familiar foes. “It’s really even between us and England but if it goes our way on the day we’ll be walking away with the gold.”
The new boy who’s actually an old boy is 27 now, a sparky character who likes a laugh but when he quit it was on a matter of principle to support his coach. Tan Jai En, the former Chinese champion and the first gymnast to execute a triple-back dismount on the high bar, was national coach when he lost his job as part of restructuring by the sport’s governing body in Scotland. “I pulled out two days before we flew to Delhi,” recalled Cox. “Tan was like a second dad to me and I just felt what had happened to him wasn’t right.”
Even so, that was quite a sacrifice. Did he regret his decision? “Not at all. It was a big sacrifice but at some point you’ve got to weigh success against the kind of person you are. I supported Tan and I think that meant everything to him. I think that if the same kind of thing happened to me he’d have taken the same course.
“He was Steve Frew’s coach and my coach and he was someone who’d produced so many medals. Suddenly he was brushed aside like a piece of dirt and no one was doing anything. But you take a stand and it was brought to attention. The people involved, the board, were removed over time.”
Cox, who won a bronze in Melbourne, said he didn’t watch the Delhi gymnastics on TV. “I found out how the boys were doing online but I couldn’t watch. When I quit I was upset, it was a really difficult moment. I just spent time with the family, knuckled down to my uni course, preparing to be a schoolteacher, and then I got married. I didn’t set foot inside a gym for two years.”
Cox came out of retirement after the London Olympics. “I’d seen how well the boys were doing. Daniel Purvis got a medal, Daniel Keatings was a reserve and I knew Frank Baines would be old enough to compete in the seniors. The team was looking so strong and I thought if I could be part of it and part of something special in Glasgow, what a great way to rewrite my ending.”
But getting back to competition standard was tough. “I’d put on a little bit of weight. I joke that it was my wife Kim who got me back in the gym because she said I was looking fat. My body had slowed down and there were aches and niggles – old injuries. But you just fight through them and my qualifications went really well. I’m just proud to be part of this team.”
By this point Cox was a full-time PE teacher, moving around four schools in West Lothian. “Working and training has been exhausting. Work would start at half-seven and I’d have to leave early, running out the door at half-three to drive to Glasgow. Train till half-eight, drive home, quick dinner, bed – do it all again. That would be okay if I was single but I’ve got a wife now and sometimes I hardly got to see her.”
Cox has been grateful for time off from his school duties. “I’ve been working really hard to try and give something back and I’ve been shooting a video blog to show the kids what it’s like to really push for something. A few of them have asked me if I’ll be going on Strictly Come Dancing after Louis [Smith] was on the show. I’m not sure I’ve got his moves but, hey, if they want to offer me a contract!”
Being a relative veteran this time, Cox will pick and choose his disciplines. “Since I’m a lot older, I won’t be doing the all-round apparatus – I’ll leave that to the boys who’re producing bigger results. More than likely I’ll concentrate on the floor, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars. These will probably be my last Games – Kim’s pregnant and our little baby’s due in January – but I know I’ve said that before.”