By Sarah Baldwin
Iknow I’m not alone in saying that my passion for gymnastics began in 1976, after seeing Nadia Comaneci at the Montreal Olympics. I, like many others, was transfixed by her routines and ultra cool demeanor, particularly as she
was only 14—just a year and a half older than I
Until then I had only dabbled in gymnastics,
unaware of the full complexity of the sport. I had
heard of Olga Korbut, but had never seen her on
TV. Like many school kids at the time, my expertise was limited to cartwheels and handstands in
My life changed forever
after Nadia. Here was the perfect sport for me; l was tiny for
my age and very competitive. I
dreamed of competing for
Great Britain at the Olympics,
and was determined to do what I
could to get there. But in my
heart of hearts, I knew my competitive career was over before it
even began. In those days, you
could just about make it to international level if you started by about
the age of 9; it soon became
unthinkable if you didn’t begin at 6.
I was already 13 when I discovered gymnastics.
I was further hampered by a lack of training
facilities and opportunities. Being at boarding
school in England, we were lucky to have a gym
club at all, which functioned two evenings a week.
The school had only recently started accepting
girls, so the equipment was very old fashioned and
geared towards men—wooden vaulting boxes,
climbing ropes, parallel wall bars and single lines
of tumbling mats, which had to be carried to and
from storage every session.
Nevertheless, I dedicated myself to pursuing the
unobtainable. I went to every gym session I could,
learning the basics and putting together floor routines. Every year I took part in the school gym
competition, but being so small I had great difficulty getting over the long box. (We had to vault
twice, across the width and length of the terrifying
Whilst I could perform walkovers, handsprings
and back flips on floor with ease, the dreaded long
box always held me back. Twice I came second to
a very strong and athletic girl who was a great
vaulter. It wasn’t until my third year of trying that I
won—largely because, in an effort to accommo-
date the girls, the school head of sport, Mr.
Tarroway, decided to adapt the format to allow
girls a choice of vaults and introduced music to
our floor routines.
With three younger children to attend to, my
mother didn’t share my
amibitions as far as gymnastics was concerned.