“I feel proud of the consistency in the growth and success we have sustained across all of our business areas but they haven’t come overnight,” says British Gymnastics chief executive Jane Allen. “They are the result of great focus, prioritisation and planning.”
Since joining the organisation in 2010, Allen has overseen a period of transition in which British Gymnastics restructured, rebranded and revised its strategic priorities. Talking to Sports Management from Team GB’s camp in Bern, Switzerland during the European Gymnastics Championships 2016, Allen can now reflect on a governing body which finds itself in a good place.
Following London 2012 – in which British gymnastics was put on the map by now household names such as Beth Tweddle, Louis Smith and Max Whitlock – the sport has gone from strength to strength, culminating with British Gymnastics winning National Governing Body (NGB) of the Year at the Sport Industry Awards 2016.
The body was recognised for its hosting of the 2015 World Championships in Glasgow – “widely acknowledged as the best ever”, according to judges – and the increase in participation that the elite success has fostered, with 300,000 participants now affiliated with British Gymnastics.
The former Gymnastics Australia chief executive says the award was a “huge honour”, adding: “We set ourselves extremely high standards across everything that we do and to have that effort and level of excellence recognised externally by leaders in our field is very rewarding and gratifying.”
Those who can cast their minds back to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens will recognise the progress that has been made. Team GB – which included a young Tweddle – failed to pick up a single medal 12 years ago, kick-starting a period of soul-searching that laid the foundations for the momentum seen today.
British Gymnastics launched a comprehensive strategy in 2011 with a focus on stimulating participation, investing in coaching, brand recognition and supporting a high-performance system. A long-term view, which began before the publication of the strategy, is demonstrably bearing fruit.
Apart from the four medals won during London 2012, Team GB won five medals at the home World Championships last year, matching UK Sport’s maximum target, and has high hopes for the upcoming Games in Rio this summer.
Whitlock – who won three gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and a further gold at last year’s World Championships – is in the prime of his career, and this week’s cover star Claudia Fragapane has already won four Commonwealth Games gold medals, two European Championships silver medals and a World Championships bronze at 18-years-old.
There’s more to come, says Allen, pointing to a batch of exciting young prospects she thinks are on the verge of making their way into the public’s consciousness.
“Our junior gymnasts have gone from strength to strength, no doubt inspired by senior success at London 2012,” she explains. “Our junior boys are reigning European champions and our girls are silver medallists.
“The emergence of new seniors, such as 16-year-olds Ellie Downie and Amy Tinkler – who helped GB to a historic World Championship bronze in 2016 – and Nile Wilson and Brinn Bevan on the men’s side, is ensuring we have world-class gymnasts coming through. Giarrni Regini-Moran and Maisie Methuen have had huge success at junior level this year and look on track to have bright futures.”
Foundation for excellence
Earlier this year, UK Sport’s director of performance Simon Timson told Sports Management that 2015 had been a year of “unprecedented success” for British Gymnastics that had been built on an “outstanding cohort of coaches”, including female head coach Amanda Reddin and male counterpart Eddie van Hoof, who created a “clearly-defined technical curriculum” to help coaches train world-class youngsters.
Indeed, one of the contributing factors to British Gymnastics’ NGB of the Year award was the fact that the body had trained 13,500 people in 2015 to deliver the sport around the country. Allen says it’s all down to “vision and focus”.
“Focus is key. Don’t try and do everything. Don’t try and be everything to everybody,” she says. “My advice is to find something you can work to build on. If you have success in that, success will lead to success.”