For Kristian Thomas, the upcoming World Championships present a chance to get his season belatedly on track, writes Matt Maher.
Last year the Wolverhampton gymnast was flung into the spotlight with a vital role in the British men’s team which won bronze at the London Olympics – the nation’s first medal in the sport for 100 years.
After those heady heights, 2013 has not exactly gone to plan.
A fractured tibia kept the 24-year-old out of April’s European Championships in Moscow in which Olympic team-mates Max Whitlock and Dan Keatings both took gold, the former picking up three medals in all.
Now returned to full fitness after a frustrating spell on the sidelines, Thomas is relishing his return to action at the worlds at Antwerp between September 30 and October 6.
Along with Whitlock and Keatings, Thomas is joined by Dan Purvis, Sam Oldham and Ashley Watson in the six-man squad. But he admits selection was never a certainty.
“It was touch and go to whether I would be fit enough for the trials,” said Thomas.
“They tried to fast-track my training a bit and after everything that’s gone on this year I’m just glad to be part of the team.
“It’s never easy being out with injury and it was a long road back, a frustrating time.
“There are a lot of very good young gymnasts in the country now and there is always going to be someone who can step up and take your place. If they do a good job then you can quite quickly find yourself down the pecking order.
“I just had to concentrate on working hard on the other apparatus and it’s a relief to now have the injury behind me.”
While delighted with the success of the British team in Moscow, Thomas admits he found it tough to watch from the sidelines.
Keatings claimed gold on the floor, silver in the all-round competition and bronze on the pommel horse while Whitlock won the pommel and Oldham took silver on the horizontal bar.
“Everyone did superbly in the Europeans. It puts pressure on me when everyone does such a fantastic job,” added Thomas. “It was tough seeing them do so well and not being part of it, though of course I was pleased for them.
“As a sportsperson you are always going to suffer injuries and it’s all about how you deal with them. I just tried to stay upbeat and focused on getting back to full fitness.”
For Thomas, the World Championships represent his first major event since the glory of London. There is no team event, with gymnasts instead competing on individual apparatus.
Thomas will feature on the vault – the competition in which he finished eighth at London – and possibly the high bars.
He admits expectation is at an all-time high following the London success and is also keen to lay down a marker ahead of a busy 2014 which will include the Commonwealth Games.
“Doing so well last year there is more expectation on us to perform,” he said. “There is definitely more attention. But we are all learning to deal with it pretty well.”
Thomas learned his trade at Halesowen-based Earls Gymnastics Club, which has had numerous financial problems.
He says the team understand continued strong performances will help maintain the interest. “A lot of local clubs have seen an increase in membership,” he said.
“Even a year on from London, I still have people coming up to me in the street to shake my hand and to talk about it.
“The future is looking strong for the sport. There is a wide talent pool coming through and it all bodes well.”