Little Tunney has her eyes on a big prize this summer
22:33 GMT, 22 June 2012
She has not yet turned 16 years old, nor reached five foot in height – but gymnast Rebecca Tunney could be Britain’s secret weapon at the Olympics.
Her chances of being named in the five-strong women’s team for London are strong and that would likely make her the youngest – and smallest – member of Team GB come Games time.
On the day of the opening ceremony she will be aged just 15 years, 274 days and stand no more than 4ft 9in tall. Her diminutive stature and knobbly knees have earned her the nickname Twiglet from friends.
High hopes: Rebecca Tunney competing on the uneven bars during the European Championships in Brussels last month
Yet despite her inexperience, gymnastics insiders excitedly believe she has the potential to deliver a standout performance in front of the home crowd and help deliver Britain’s best ever set of Olympic gymnastics results.
FOLLOW THE TORCH
Saturday, Day 36 (72 miles): Lytham St Annes to Manchester.
Torchbearers include Sir Chris Hoy.
Sunday, Day 37 (42 miles):
Salford to Leeds.
On Saturday she will compete in the all-round event at the British Championships in Liverpool – the third and final competition which selectors will use to decide who goes to London. Tunney has won the previous two.
As well as that she finished sixth in the uneven bars at January’s test event in Greenwich then at the European Championships in Brussels in May came fifth in the floor competition. During all this she has had to balance studying for GCSEs too, which she will take next year.
It is clear big stages don’t faze her and she is eager to make it London. The team is announced on July 4.
‘The test event wasn’t that much different to any other competition, like the crowd and things,’ Tunney said. ‘Getting used to the arena and how big it was; it didn’t seem that much different. Maybe because I was concentrating too much on my competition.
‘I know the Olympics are obviously bigger. I’ll go with the flow. I’ll see what happens. It’s weird because I am the youngest – but I do have a chance of going to the Olympics. I am old enough.’
She is indeed. Just.
Rules dictate competitors must turn 16 in Olympic year to be eligible. Tunney’s birthday is on October 26. She would not be the youngest ever British gymnast at a Games because rules were not as restrictive in the past and Rowena Roberts was 15 years, 73 days at the time of the Barcelona opening ceremony in 1992.
Regardless, little Tunney could prove to be a big surprise to both spectators… and rivals.
Team-mate: Tweddle in action at the 2008 Beijing Olympics
‘I am not five foot,’ she said. ‘I have been told that I am not even going to reach five foot! My mum is quite small, too.
‘My mum did gymnastics when she was little. When she gave that up she went into swimming. She was a really good swimmer. I tried swimming, ballet and everything. I preferred gymnastics. She could see it straightaway.’
Having Beth Tweddle as a team-mate at the City of Liverpool club helped. Tunney says the former world champion is an inspiration.
‘Definitely,’ she said. ‘Because we train with her as well, we see how she trains and she how puts up with the bad days, how she treats the good days. It is good to watch because then we will know how to deal with it too. Obviously, she is good at it as she has won world titles.’
Despite only being alive for three previous Olympics, Tunney is mature enough to realise that with gymnastics, careers can be short. She knows London is a chance to be seized and hasn’t decided if she will still be in the sport by the time Rio 2016 comes round.
‘To be honest with you, it depends on how fit I am, how many injuries I have had. See how that goes,’ she said. ‘I would like to think that I will stay on. If I don’t make it this year, then the next few years I will be one of the older ones. But you never know what will happen in the future.’
That future could be as soon as this summer.
Emerging talent Temi Fagbenle was among a group of 12 players selected on Friday to Great Britain’s women’s Olympic basketball side.
The 19-year-old was born in Baltimore but grew up in London before switching to New Jersey four years ago to pursue her sporting career. She now attends Harvard University.