Francis: Brits can sneak medal

EXCLUSIVE: British artistic gymnastics champion Danusia Francis thinks the new format for the team event could help Team GB win a medal at the London Olympic Games.

Eurosport

Teenage starlet Francis, only 17, has come on leaps and bounds in the past two years, winning gold on the balance beam at the British Championships before forming an integral part of the GB side that came fifth in the team event at last year’s World Championships in Japan.

That was the British women’s team’s best-ever performance at a major championship, and Francis believes that the squad is peaking at the right time.

"I think the fact we’re having it in London is spurring us on," Francis told Eurosport from the Surrey Sports Park at the University of Surrey, Guildford. "We have a lot of interest from fans and media which is actually exciting - it all gives us added motivation as we want to do well in front of our home fans."

Team GB’s performance in Tokyo was made all the more impressive given the pedigree of its opponents - China, Russia and the United States dominate women’s gymnastics, while Romania has great heritage in the sport.

Furthermore, beating Germany, hosts Japan and Australia gives Francis hope that the new scoring system for the team event could allow Britain to sneak a medal in London.

"China, Russia and the Americans are so good, a combination of their training and the size of the countries," she acknowledged.

"But the new format of the team final has three people on all the disciplines, and every score counts, you can't drop any results. That gives us a great chance as all it takes is for someone to make a major mistake, to fall, and it effectively eliminates the team.

"If we don’t make any mistakes, if we perform as a team, then we have a chance of a medal. Obviously if we suffer a fall then I’ll claim it’s unfair, but if we get a medal I’ll be delighted."

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In terms of medals, the upcoming European Championships in May gives Britain an even better chance - without the US, China and Japan, Francis’s team are now well in the hunt for a podium spot in the team event.

Francis thinks they have a great opportunity to continue their rise ahead of the London Games – but she is refusing to predict glory just yet.

"We’ve got a really good chance, a superb chance. But we have to try our best and it’s down to what happens on the day - can we keep our concentration, get it right when it matters? How will the others do? In a way it’s out of your hands."

Francis has been something of a rising star in British gymnastics, which has been associated with the name of Beth Tweddle for the past six years.

But she is refusing to count her chickens on even making the squad, pointing out how competitive British gymnastics has become.

"Hannah Whelan is really, really good, she’s a strong contender for all apparatus. Imogen Kearn has a few Commonwealth medals and is very strong - overall there are about 15 of us competing for five spots and any one of us could make it.

"I’m quite superstitious so I will never say I’m definitely on the team but I have a good chance. It depends how the trials go."

Francis is from Kenilworth in Warwickshire but trains in London and Surrey. At the age of 17 this only scratches the surface of the life of a gymnast, with careers starting much earlier than other sports.

"I was nine when I moved away from home," she said. "At the time it wasn’t that hard – because at that age all you want to do is gymnastics, 24-7.

"It’s a life-changing decision but the best one I made. I didn’t realise what I was missing out until much later – at nine years old I had no idea about going out, going to parties, so I was probably in a better position to make that decision!

"So while I know I have missed out on certain things, I also know that not many people my age have been on the Great Wall of China and so I’m very grateful for the opportunities that have come."

Francis’s Chinese experience was not just cultural - the Asian superpower is dominant in many Olympic events, with gymnastics a key component of any Communist country’s sporting repertoire.

And the British team was able to learn just how China has such success in sports - complete dedication and focus.

"It was fantastic experience. Training at their national centre, which is so strict, you realise what you have to do to get at their level – a lot.

"We’ve been to so many different countries - not just China - to take tips from their training cultures, and we’ve applied it to our training really well. Our coaches try to keep it interesting too, but everything helps."

One could be forgiven for thinking Francis’s Olympic debut is her main highlight of the year - but she has an even bigger move coming up as she prepares to start life in the USA this autumn, where she will join the UCLA Bruins on an athletic scholarship.

"I’m so excited! It’s something I didn’t think about until eight months ago. But one of my close friends (Heathrow team-mate Rebecca Wing) is at Stanford, she started last year and is loving it.

"I went for a visit to Los Angeles and had the best time. It’s like I’m meant to go there."

Danusia Francis was at Surrey Sports Park, an elite training facility at the University of Surrey.

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