Louis can be king

Pommel horse starlet aiming to glitter with gold

Last Updated: 27/09/11 5:59pm

British gymnast Louis Smith is determined to improve on the pommel horse bronze medal he scooped at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he takes the floor at next year's competition in London.

The 21-year-old, born in Peterborough and coached in Huntingdon, became the first British gymnast in a century to win an individual medal at the Olympics - but is aiming even higher this time around.

Smith told Sky Sports News HD's Special Report: "The motivation has got even stronger. Despite the money and the fame... well, I say fame but I've only got 2,000 followers on Twitter... but the motivation is stronger because I've been training 18 years for this one moment of glory at the Olympic Games.

"I'm not just doing it for myself any more. My mum's sacrificed so much for me, she's been a single parent. My coach, my friends and family have all been there and they've all supported me. So now, I've got more than just myself to prove - it's for everyone who helped me get to this position.

"I look at what my life was before I won bronze and I look at it now, then I magnify by 50 and that's what it would be like if I won a gold medal at the Olympic Games."

Louis Smith

Quotes of the week

"I've changed a lot. Before Beijing, I was 19-year-old Louis Smith. Literally, the next day I was 30-year-old Louis Smith. I had a lot of growing up to do because I instantly became a role model. It was a tough transition to make.

Grounded

Despite the meteoric rise in exposure, Smith remains thankful to those who helped his career in its infancy and is keen to avoid the pitfalls of fame.

Growing up under the guidance of his single mother, Smith is refreshingly mature for a professional athlete and even talked of creating his own family despite his tender years.

He said: "I have very strong morals and I like the simple things in life. I'm trying to get my house sorted and I very much look forward to getting married and having kids. I'm not one of these people who abuses their fame and goes out and gets girls. Like I said, I prefer the simple things in life.

"If it wasn't for my mum, I wouldn't be in the position I was in. She sacrificed a lot to give me what I needed. If I wasn't so into sport I can imagine growing up would have been a bit more difficult, but gymnastics played that part. It taught me respect and the things you do and don't do to achieve your goal. My coach Paul (Hall) has been like my role model and my father figure."

Smith's mother, Elaine Petch, added: "He was very active. He didn't sleep much. He was on the go all the time and didn't want to sit still. We got him into that and he's done really well. He broke his wrist playing in the garden at two-and-a-half and then broke his elbow at three, so it was trying to stop him climbing the fence and the trees. He was a child with no fear."

Injury

Smith's reckless nature as a child has been quelled by the focus of preparing and competing in professional sport - but he admits he is never fully fit and a long-standing thumb injury is still causing him some discomfort.

He said: "I've got tissue damage in my thumb. It's not really an injury any more it's a way of life. It's one of those ones that won't get better, I've just got to try and maintain it and look after it. If I feel like it's starting to get a bit sore then I'll try and keep on top of it by doing some exercises. I don't think humans are meant to be walking on their hands all day. Nobody here is injury-free - everyone's got a pain or a niggle.

"It's frustrating when you've got a goal that you want to reach and you've got little niggles and pains that are stopping. Nobody here is a stranger to working hard - we know what it takes to get to the top of the competition. My body is a wreck. I got told by the physio I have the back of a 30-year-old. It's tough!"

The troublesome thumb excluded, Smith is an extraordinary specimen blessed with an arm-length that allows him to traverse the pommel horse with more ease than the average gymnast.

He said: "My arms have grown into me a bit now but when I was 14 I could scratch my knees without having to bend down. It allows me to get extension off the pommel horse. Longer arms mean I can get high above the pommel horse and more clearance."

Confident

Up against top athletes from China, Hungary and Australia, Smith knows he has his work cut out to keep the gold medal on British soil after 2012 and as a result is working on a daring high-risk routine.

He said: "It's the hardest routine ever in the world. That move you just saw is a triple Russian one-handle. It's gold-winning. No-one does that and it's the hardest move you can do on the pommel horse. I'm guessing there's a few people that can do it but there's not many that can do it in competition. There's a high risk element. That type of skill, people buckle on.

"You can't help but feel if you make a mistake, you just wasted the last months of your life training for this competition. It's a really nice sense of achievement when you feel like you've done your job.

"I'm confident I can do a pretty amazing routine. Whether I win or not is really in the hands of the other gymnasts. It's a strange sport - you're getting judged by someone else so all you can do is your best performance.

"It's not so much about winning at the moment but about putting in the scores. I could win by three marks here but I've got to prove on a world standard that I'm putting in scores that can challenge for a gold. When the Chinese and the Hungarians and the Australians read about me scoring a 16 at the British Championships, it shows I'm in Olympic medal contention."

Support

Smith, a character in and out of the gymnasium, is well-liked by his coaches and peers, who believe he has the talent and attitude to fulfil his ultimate goal.

Triple world champion Beth Tweddle said: "I see him training in the gym and he's just always out there to get that goal. He knows what he wants. He's got the experience from Beijing and you can just see he wants to go better."

Smith's coach Paul Hall looked further into the future, adding: "He's very extrovert. He loves to perform, show off and he loves to be in the limelight, but he has a good side to him as well that's very quiet, thoughtful and creative. I see him as a very artistic person.

"At the moment he's looking at London to see how he can get on with that. It's a big target for all of us and then we'll see, but he's in the peak of his fitness. It's an ideal time for gymnastics and there are gymnasts now that can work into their 30s."

Smith is busier focusing on his life-defining shot at a gold medal on home soil and is under no illusions as to what victory would mean.

In conclusion, the darling of British gymnastics stated: "I look at what my life was before I won bronze and I look at it now, then I magnify by 50 and that's what it would be like if I won a gold medal at the Olympic Games. It would be a great stepping stone, a great platform to launch my career if I was to carry on or if I was to retire."