Nile Wilson soared back from ankle surgery to claim three gold medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and gave the impression he was on the cusp of ruling the gymnastics world.
Wilson had shot to fame by winning Olympic bronze on the high bar in Rio, and his obvious all-round talent and seven-figure social media following placed him firmly at the forefront of Great Britain’s Tokyo 2020 prospects.
Instead, neck surgery and its subsequent complications plunged Wilson into well-documented physical and mental battles from which he is only now beginning to re-emerge to target a place at the delayed Games in 2021.
“Obviously the Olympic postponement was a bit of a blessing in disguise for me,” Wilson conceded to the PA news agency, although like all affected athletes, he is eager to stress its relative inconsequence.
“It’s one of those times when we all have to take a step back for a second and appreciate that this pandemic is way bigger than sport, and it puts everything in perspective.”
Wilson has stayed busy during his tortuous recovery process – and subsequent lockdown – by entertaining his social media army, with 1.4 million subscribers to his Youtube channel and almost 500,000 followers on Instagram.
In his most recent exploits he treated his Instagram followers to a series of quiz questions whilst simultaneously dunking his parents’ faces into two large sacks of flour.
It is just one way in which the Leeds star has overcome the psychological effects which began to take their toll as a period in which he had been expected to continue his emergence was spent instead in a hospital bed.
“The physical pain is one thing, but when you’re doing the sport you love one minute, then it’s taken away from you in a split second, that’s very difficult to cope with,” added Wilson.
“It’s been two years since I properly competed, and I’ve had my own real struggles with mental health in this time, but I’ve also had incredible support from family and friends, and the national programme.
“Learning how to cope with these mental health challenges has made me a stronger person, and this pandemic has shown there is more to life than fame and content and success.
“Playing my part through this whole pandemic is about allowing people to escape for a few minutes, to click on the blog and have a smile or a bit of a laugh, and if it can inspire you in some way then that’s my main goal.”
Wilson’s current injury issues entail nerve damage arising from the shoulder surgery, which affect him down his right side and also prohibit blood supply to his shoulder.
Nonetheless he is adamant that he will be 100 per cent recovered for the new Tokyo date, and able to re-live the medal-winning moments he so obviously enjoyed in both Brazil and the Gold Coast.
“Being an athlete is all about being in the moment,” added Wilson. “My Rio medal is just something that’s sitting there gathering dust.
“It does give me a great feeling from a pride perspective and it reminds me what I do it for. It’s not for the fame or the riches or the materials, it’s because I want to be Olympic champion.”
:: : Nile Wilson is working with Aldi, the official supermarket partner of Team GB, to keep the nation fit and healthy, with an exclusive workout series hosted at www.youtube.com/AldiUK.