FROM JUNIOR TO SENIOR….KRISTIAN THOMAS REFLECTS ON HIS JOURNEY

Representing your country is often said to be the greatest honour bestowed upon an athlete. But how do you reach that point? And what does it take to make the jump from competing at junior level to the senior stage? Our new feature series, entitled ‘From Junior to Senior’, sees a member of our alumni reflect on this journey! This time in the hotseat is Kristian Thomas - an Olympic, world, European and Commonwealth Games medallist.
17 May, 2022

Representing your country is often said to be the greatest honour bestowed upon an athlete. But how do you reach that point? And what does it take to make the jump from competing at junior level to the senior stage? SportsAid has helped many of Britain’s leading sports stars during the early stages of their careers. The charity's extensive alumni stretches across the generations with a large selection establishing themselves as household names.

Our feature series, entitled ‘From Junior to Senior’, in association with Commonwealth Games England, sees a member of our alumni reflect on their sporting journey. They reveal how they initially got into their sport, the significance of the first medal they won, the stand-out moment of their early years, their biggest comeback moment, the time they stepped up to senior level and the main influence throughout their development.

This time in the hotseat is Kristian Thomas!

The former gymnastics sensation won multiple medals for Great Britain at Olympic, world and European level – while the Commonwealth Games marked many of the most significant moments of his career representing Team England.

Kristian racked up no fewer than three medals at the Games in Glasgow in 2014, grabbing gold in the team event alongside two silvers on the vault and horizontal bars.

And that tally built on the team bronze he bagged in Melbourne eight years earlier, capping a memorable Team England career alongside his stand-out bronze medal claimed at the London 2012 Olympic Games for Team GB.

WHERE THE JOURNEY BEGAN

“I started gymnastics at five-years-old. At that sort of age you don’t know much about sport or where it will take you, but I guess I was very lucky that at a young age I found a sport that I enjoyed and was good at, a sport I knew could challenge me and keep pushing me.

“At five I did know about the Olympics and that was something I wanted to strive for and compete for. In gymnastics you commit a lot of hours at a very young age so you almost become a full-time athlete by 12-15-years-old.

“It is a big commitment, but equally I really enjoyed the sport and fortunately I was good at it. I had opportunities to represent my country which as a young gymnast is incredible, to travel the world with your friends, to do something no one else could talk about or even dream of.

“It was just a sport that engaged with me and I took every opportunity I possibly could with it.”

WINNING MY FIRST MEDAL

“I’m from Wolverhampton and my first competition was at Cannock Leisure Centre. It was just a very small regional competition, but that was my first ever competition and I still to this day remember the venue and there being lots of people.

“It was a brilliant experience and luckily I did well in that competition, which then opened doors to compete regionally for West Midlands and eventually selection into the national set-up.

“It’s all connected and a lot of it starts at a very young age. It all starts with that first competition and having that experience and enjoying yourself, and at that sort of age not even worrying about results. I took that from a young age all the way through to my senior international career.”

THE STAND-OUT MOMENT

“It had to be the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. Going there very naively perhaps and everything being so new to me with the environment, the village, the food, the size of the arena….coming away with the bronze medal was a complete game-changer for me.

“It gave me the confidence to go out there and really have the desire to continue that as a career, and also know I’m good enough to do this at this level.”

STEPPING UP TO SENIOR LEVEL

“Stepping up to the Commonwealth Games was a little bit of a shock, more than anything else.

“I did the competitions to try out for the Commonwealth Games but it wasn’t the aim at that sort of age, it was being used as a building block for future competitions.

“To actually get selected, me, my coach and my family were just not expecting it at that stage of my career. It was a shock and a massive, massive learning curve for me at 17-years-old.

“I took the opportunity with both hands. After that, it was a case of ‘where do we go from here, what next?’ rather than: ‘I’ll get selected for these competitions.’”

MY MAIN INFLUENCE

“I was very lucky, travelling out to the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne as I was actually sat next to Beth Tweddle on the plane.

“At the time she was a world medallist and the ultimate gymnast for Great Britain.

“I’d never met her before and as a junior, meeting one of your idols and someone you look up to, and sitting next to them for a 24-hour plane journey, was a little bit daunting….but it was a great opportunity just to pick her brain and get to know her.

“She was a massive icon so that was one of the moments where you sit back and think ‘that was something.’”

Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!