After a successful European Championships earlier this year the GB gymnastics squad have a lot to be positive ahead of the Olympic Games.
Danusia Francis is just one of the gymnasts that is battling it out for a place on the squad this summer and I caught up with her to chat about the shape that she is in at the moment.
- The Olympic Games are not just a handful of weeks away so how excited are you at the prospect of a home Games?
I’m so excited. I remember when I was young and the Olympics was in the bidding process and London was about to see if they had won it.
I remember being in the car with my mum and found out that we had won the Olympics and I new that it would be the year that I was old enough.
Now there’s not long to go and it’s crazy, I think that the atmosphere is going to get more exciting as the days go on.
- How would you assess the shape that you are in and what needs to be done before now and the Games themselves?
At the moment I am in good competition shape and I can do all of my routines - as a gymnast you don’t want to be changing your routines but just keep practising them over and over again to get them consistent.
Between now and then I just want to keep up the numbers and just try and polish my routines to make them perfect.
- You were part of the GB squad that finished fourth at the recent European Championships so how much was that a boost for you and the team?
That was a big boost as we didn’t have three of our older gymnasts in the team which are Beth Tweddle, Imogene (Cairns) and Becky (Downie).
So to do that with such a young team and a couple of inexperienced girls who were just first year seniors was really really good. To go out there and do all of those performances it has put us in a good stride.
- You have slightly touched on my next question really as Beth Tweddle is the talisman of the British squad so how much of an inspiration has she been for you?
Such an inspiration as she has shown that she can go on for so long and still be up there and getting an MBE as a sportsperson is just great.
Each day you see her in the gym and working so hard and you realise that that is where she got to where she is by hard work and that inspires you to keep working hard and hope that one day you can be as good as her.
- What did you take away from European Championships as a positive and what have you worked on since those championships?
As a positive I took away how well we can perform as a team without some of the older girls. Since then I have just worked on making my routines a little sharper, I had a few wobbles here and there during the competition and that was a little disappointing.
I did clean routines which is good but I am always striving to be better in every competition.
- British gymnastics for both men and women has been very strong over the last few years so what do you think the squad can achieve in London this summer?
I think that we can definitely bring back some medals and I would say that this is the first Olympics where we can say some rather than one or two.
Everyone is working as a team and there are so many people out there who have a good chance and as a team we are stronger than ever. - The tickets flew out for events at the O2 so how much of a boost did that give you knowing that it has been so popular?
Yeah that is such a boost to know that we have got the support of people out there who perhaps don’t know a lot about gymnastics but are interested now that it came to London.
The way that the tickets sold and the way that they are still selling I believe is great and inspirational and I hope that it makes more and more children interested in gymnastics as well.
- Well as you say the Olympics will be a huge inspiration for kids up and down the country so for any of them who want to get into gymnastics what advice would you give?
I would say when you do it just decide that you are doing it for fun and because you love it. If you then decide that you want to take it seriously and become and elite level gymnast then you need to stay dedicated and focused.
But also you need to remember that you started it because you found it fun and always keep that in mind.
- How did you get into the sport?
I just started it as a hobby to burn excess energy when I was about five and then I just loved it and watched loving the other gymnasts.
I would go home and line up mattresses and practise doing flips all over the living room (laughs) and since then I have always just wanted to be the best that I can be.
- And while you have been training hard have you given some thought about what it's going to be like at the O2 and walking into the Olympic Stadium at the opening ceremony?
Well I watched the test event and I also watched the worlds that were at the O2 back in 2009 so at that time I did give it a bit of thought.
I have also been to a couple of concerts at the O2 and so when I was there it was hard not to think ‘oh my god the next time I am here could be the Olympic Games’.
But during training I normally keep that out of my mind because I don’t want to get too big for my boots as I have not been selected yet.
- Qualifying has been the main goal recently so how difficult have you found it as there are around fifteen girls fighting for the five spots?
It has been so intense and I think I would be right in saying that is it the most intense selection process for the Olympic team that gymnastics has had as lot of us are very very close.
There are obviously a few standouts such as Beth who have got their place pretty much, even though they haven’t been selected yet.
But everyone else is within a few tenths and so it’s not just doing your routines it’s about hitting every handstand and not wobbling just to prove that you are that little bit better and you deserve that place on the squad.
But with gymnastics anything can happen and one fall could have got you a place in 2008 but it probably won’t get you a place this year. - But how great is it in terms of development to have such good domestic competition?
To know that we have got so many people that could potentially be on the team is so good and it just shows how much we have improved.
To be able to fight it out it does bring you closer but it also makes you the best that you want to be - I think sometimes you go into a competition just hoping to hit your routines but now we are all fighting for selection so that is just bringing the best out of all of us as well.
- And while all this is going on you are also sitting your A-Levels so how have you found juggling it all?
I was lucky that I do just the two and the exams are quite far apart so I have had a lot of time to revise and my teachers have been really helpful.
I am just hoping that I have done enough in my exams; I had my last one on Wednesday, so fingers crossed.
- After the Olympics you will be heading to UCLA so can you tell me a little bit about that?
One of my friends goes to Stanford and when she was going through the process of looking at American universities I started to become interested as well.
I started to YouTube the collegiate gymnastics and I just thought that it was something that really suited me as a person as that is my favourite aspect of gymnastics is performance.
So I just researched it a bit more and when I got approached by UCLA I just thought ‘wow’ and I thought it was an opportunity that I couldn’t really turn down.
- I was reading that you had considered quitting gymnastics after the London Games but now you may continue to Rio?
Yeah I definitely have that in my mind as I come to the end of my life at sixth-form and the Olympics it just felt like a natural end and I was just making a decision about what I would do then.
But now I will be out at UCLA for four more years anyway I think we will see how it goes - watch this space (laughs).
- What are your personal goals for the Games is you make the squad?
If I was to make the squad my personal goals would be to do clean routines but not just clean routines like I did in the world’s last year but also raise my game and see if I can creep into a final - that would be really nice.
- Finally what's coming up for you between now and the Games?
Now and this summer it’s just lots and lots of hard work and lots of crossed fingers and hoping to make that team. I have also got my prom and then the process of going to UCLA so packing and getting my Visa sorted.
Danusia Francis was speaking at the University of Surrey owned Surrey Sports Park, one of Europe's leading events and training venues. www.surreysportspark.co.uk
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw