Smith, Tweddle headline British gymnastics team
LOUGHBOROUGH, England (AP) - Olympic bronze medalist Louis Smith and three-time world champion Beth Tweddle are on their way to the London Olympics as part of the strongest gymnastics team Britain has ever had.
Smith, whose bronze medal on pommel horse in Beijing was Britain's first Olympic medal in almost a century, was joined by Daniel Purvis; Sam Oldham, Max Whitlock and Kristian Thomas when the team was announced Wednesday. Rebecca Tunney, Hannah Whelan, Imogen Cairns and Jennifer Pinches joined Tweddle on the women's team.
In a sign of how deep the British are now, 2009 world silver medalist Daniel Keatings was left off the team. Keatings' silver at the 2009 world championships - held at The O2 Arena - was the first all-around medal at a major competition by a British gymnast.
"We had to look at what was the best makeup and what would give us the best results,'' said Tim Jones, Olympic performance director for British Gymnastics. "We ended up making the decisions we did and we believe those are the right decisions.''
Purvis, fourth at last year's worlds, and Thomas did not come as a surprise, having been mainstays on recent British squads along with Smith. Oldham and Whitlock are just 19, but were impossible to ignore after strong performances this year. Oldham finished second to Purvis at the British championships last month. Whitlock, part of the squad that won the 2010 junior European title, helped Britain qualify for the London Games at the January test event.
As recently as a decade ago, Britain was barely an afterthought in gymnastics, happy if one of its gymnasts simply made the finals. But success by Tweddle and Smith, coupled with an increase in funding ahead of the London Games, has turned the British into a force. This is the first time since 1984 they qualified both full men's and women's teams, and they have the potential to win multiple medals in London.
Tweddle will be a favorite on uneven bars, her signature event, while Smith is expected to battle Hungary's Krisztian Berki for gold on pommel horse. The men are darkhorses for a medal in the team competition.