GYMNASTICS – A nine-member female squad of St Christopher’s School students, aged between 10-12 years old, leaves for the UAE today to take part in the Little Stars Abu Dhabi Invitational gymnastics tournament for the first time.
The young gymnasts are being chaperoned by Glenn Smith, the head of the gymnastics academy at St Christopher’s sports and arts academy (SPARTA) programme and a former international gymnast who was a member of the British Gymnastics Tumbling Team and part of the squad that won the European Championships in Metz, France, in 2006.
Smith, 41, who took up his current assignment in 2019, was running his own gymnastics coaching company in the United Kingdom when the opportunity to work in Bahrain presented itself.
“It was by chance, really,” Smith told the GDN in an exclusive interview yesterday after conducting one final training session with his students.
“A friend of mine, who was teaching in Oman, forwarded the job advertisement to me. As I’d never worked abroad before, it sounded really appealing.
“At the time, I was running my own gymnastics coaching company, delivering high-quality gymnastics PE lessons in local schools.”
The former British gymnast has been a coach for 25 years, having started teaching at the same club he competed for at the age of 16.
Smith, who has a British Gymnastics Level 2 coaching qualification, visited more than 900 schools in the UK and Europe during his time as a coach there, providing taster sessions and putting on gymnastics displays.
And he has been a gymnast since the age of four-and-a-half – an extremely early age, by any standards, for a child to take up such a physically demanding sport. And he has his mum to thank for that.
“I was a very over-active child,” Smith laughed.
“I was always climbing up curtains and jumping from stairs so my mum took me to the local club and I was immediately hooked!
“Mum was a dancer and my dad played football to quite a high standard so sport was always in the family genes.”
Smith began his career doing artistic gymnastics but then concentrated on tumbling.
“I’d always enjoyed feeling like I was defying gravity so it seemed the perfect fit,” he explained.
Tumbling is a discipline in which athletes perform acrobatic skills down a 25-metre (82 feet) long sprung track with each pass including eight elements in which the athlete jumps, twists and flips placing only their hands and feet on the track.
After starting tumbling at the age of 17 and competing in regional and domestic competitions, Smith got his first big break at 21 when he was selected for the British Tumbling squad that was going to compete in the European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 2004.
The team won silver but two years later, Smith found himself standing proudly atop the victory podium in Metz with a gold medal around his neck.
“Winning the European Championships with team Great Britain felt like a lifetime’s work was worth it,” he said.
“After winning silver two years earlier, winning gold in France felt like a huge accomplishment – as it, indeed, was!”
Right now, though, Smith’s focus is on ensuring that his young students do well in the Abu Dhabi event.
“They’re completely committed and have been working really hard,” he said.
“Regardless of how they do in the tournament, the experience alone of competing in an international event will do wonders for their confidence and might inspire a desire to take up the sport professionally at a later stage.”