Beth Tweddle has backed a strong British team to taste success at the European Gymnastics Championships as the build-up to next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro starts in earnest.
The three-time World and six-time European champion, who retired a year after winning bronze on the uneven bars at London 2012, believes the strong set of results from British gymnasts in the last couple of years proves they are still on the rise.
The men’s team for the European Championships, which take place in Montpellier this week, contains all five of the Olympic bronze medal team from London in Max Whitlock, Louis Smith, Daniel Purvis, Sam Oldham and Kristian Thomas, with powerful 19-year-old Courtney Tulloch the sixth member.
The four-strong women’s team consists of the experienced Becky Downie, who will be looking to defend her European bars title, England’s four-time Commonwealth champion Claudia Fragapane as well as 15-year-olds Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler.
Tweddle expects to see a range of new routines as the gymnasts eye this year’s World Championships, which take place in Glasgow in October.
“The Europeans are a major stepping stone to the 2015 World Championships,” said Tweddle on a visit to Glasgow yesterday.
“Amy Tinkler and Ellie Downie are now both seniors and it’s great for them to get the experience. Claudia was the golden girl for Team England and Becky Downie is the reigning champion on bars.
“Louis is returning to action and he’s had some great scores this year, and Max is coming off the success at the World Championships and he will be looking to build on that.
“Sam Oldham is also back after he suffered a serious injury at the Commonwealth Games so that’s great for him.
“If you look at the results in the last two years, we’ve done better than ever before as a team and got European silver last year and Becky a European gold. Both boys and girls have picked up.”
Whitlock’s rise to prominence after his surprise pommel horse bronze at London 2012 has seen him win silver on the apparatus at the World Championships in 2013 while last year he won world silver in the all-around.
The 22-year-old is the defending European champion on the pommel horse and has previously won European floor and team gold and is a three-time Commonwealth champion.
However, it is Olympic pommel horse silver medallist Smith who might garner the most attention following his return to competitive action this year after a two-year hiatus. He competed for England at last year’s Commonwealth Games, winning pommel horse bronze, but went on to win the British title in March.
Having previously ruled out bidding to win a gold medal at the Rio Games the idea could still be in 25-year-old Smith’s mind, and Tweddle thinks he may well try to upgrade to gold on the apparatus if given the chance next year.
“You never say never – you can’t really say never,” Tweddle said when asked about Smith’s Olympic ambitions.
“For him he feels he has stuff to do and he is still producing results on pommel. Only he knows his thoughts for Rio.”
• Beth Tweddle was speaking at the Bellahouston launch of new school resource packs which will be used to encourage pupils across the country to get involved in gymnastics and the 2015 World Championships.