It’s strictly down to business for Louis Smith

The London Olympics medal -winning gymnast is aiming to strut his stuff in Glasgow over the next 10 days – and admits he is a lot more confident of producing some dazzling performances than when he was here as part of the Strictly Come Dancing tour
Louis Smith training at the SSE Hydro yesterday. Picture: Jeff HolmesLouis Smith training at the SSE Hydro yesterday. Picture: Jeff Holmes
Louis Smith training at the SSE Hydro yesterday. Picture: Jeff Holmes

Gymnast Louis Smith says that there is pressure in walking out in front of a packed crowd with the aim of clinching a place at next summer’s Olympics, but it is nothing compared to the fear he experienced strutting his stuff in sequins in front of a boisterous audience.

The Olympic medallist is in Glasgow for the World Championships and he is looking forward to tapping into the enthusiasm of the home support.

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“Glasgow is fantastic. You guys are crazy here. I danced here for Strictly and it was the smallest arena but the loudest out of all the places we went to up and down the country. It is always nice to come back.”

That visit was part of the Strictly Come Dancing tour, but this week it is strictly business.

Nearly 600 gymnasts from over 80 countries are in the city to compete for medals and, perhaps just as crucially, qualification for Rio 2016. Smith triumphed in the 2012 television dance show and he would be delighted if team GB could dazzle with their performances over the next 10 days.

The team is in great form, comprising World, European and Commonwealth individual medallists, and although up early in the programme, where marking is historically harsher, he is confident that they can shimmy their way into the team final as well as give a good account of themselves on individual apparatus.

“I can walk out here feeling confident but walking out to do a ballroom tango in Strictly when you have only been doing it for four days and they put you a sparkly costume and you are in Cuban heels, it is a completely different experience. I feel a lot more confident doing this,” said the reigning European pommel horse champion.

“I feel good, very good. I have stepped up my routine. I haven’t failed a routine in the last four weeks in training or all of the competitions we’ve done. I have done nine out of nine clean competition routines this year. My consistency is there. I feel good and ready to go out there and show the world what I can do.

“Every competition I’ve been in this year, it’s been gold and silver, which shows my mentality and where I’m at. I’m confident I can get through my routine, and I can do it to the standard of being one of the best. It actually relieves pressure. No way do I go into a competition feeling cocky but it is such a big difference going into a competition feeling confident. A lot of gymnasts out there, you can see in their faces, that they are not 100 per cent confident. It is really a 50/50 whether they are going to go through or not.

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“It is important to be confident and consistent: all of the training I have done this year has allowed me to be both of those. I’m eager to get out there and compete.”

In an almost empty SSE Hydro yesterday, the British men went through their paces. They were happy to get through the fine-tuning unscathed and reacquaint themselves with an arena that holds happy memories for so many following last year’s Commonwealth Games.

Relaxed and chatty with the assembled media, the 26-year- old is itching to get the competition underway and get the anticipated lift from the largely-partisan crowd. “I think at my first World Cup I was about 15 – the Glasgow Grand Prix at Kelvin Hall. Glasgow was my first time competing against my idol Marius Urzica – and I almost beat him as well.

“It’s a strange one because, when you are in the training gym, you don’t have the draining effect of being in a massive arena. Today you have got the nerves and it’s a bit more mentally draining, so everyone is a little bit more tired. But, normally in a competition, you have got the adrenalin of the crowd to then pick you back up. Everyone is a little bit shaky today, everyone is a little bit nervous and tired, but, when it comes to the competition, everyone will be feeling 100 times better.”

The fact they have shown the quality in the Hydro previously is a huge advantage. “It’s not like it’s a Formula 1 track where we have to remember each corner, but everything is easier because it’s in Glasgow. When we are competing, we are the home favourites. We are the boys that everyone is going to be cheering for. It’s a win-win situation – all we have got to do is our routines and not let anyone down.”

The standard is high, with Kohei Uchimura the man setting the benchmark. The Japanese five-time Olympic medallist is going for his sixth consecutive world all-around title. Last year it was GB’s Max Whitlock who ran him closest, with Smith excited about a possible repeat battle.

“I don’t think he is from this planet,” Smith said of Uchimura. “I think he is a superhuman. I think secretly at night he dresses up in costumes and saves people from fires, burning buildings and stuff like that. The guy is a legend. He is unbelievable.

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“But I did say to Max at the dinner table the other night, because we are staying at the same hotel as the Japanese, ‘Do you reckon Uchimura gets a bit nervous when he sees you?’ And he was like: ‘Nah’. I said: ‘C’mon Max, give yourself some credit.’ I’m looking forward to seeing how the competition unfolds.”

The individual plaudits and awards will be a bonus, though, for a GB team which took bronze in London 2012. Their sights are firmly focused on a top-eight finish in the team event in Glasgow and earning immediate qualification for next summer’s Olympics.

“Because Rio’s so important, the biggest goal for me is qualifying a team spot which is why I’m choosing to do my easy routine in qualification, to post a good score. No one wants to miss out on the chance to go to Rio, so the most important thing is that we do our jobs and qualify for the team final.

“We know what’s coming and the only thing we can have control over is our routines – if we do the routines that we know we’re capable of, then the judges should take care of the rest. So we can’t focus on whether we’ve got a good draw or a bad draw, just get our routines done and because of the strength and the quality of the team we know if we do that, we should be in the team final.”