Smith urges Brit pack to hold nerve as young gymnasts bid for team place at London 2012
The sign in Louis Smith’s sitting room reads ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’. It is an adage he intends to follow, but one he fears his British gymnastics team-mates may not.
Today is the team’s Olympic D-Day at the O2 Arena in Greenwich. Finish in the top four of the eight competing nations and they will take their place at London 2012. Fail to do so and one individual in one discipline will go it alone.
Qualification should be a formality because the British line-up is the strongest we have had. Three stars — Smith, Daniel Keatings and Daniel Purvis — are augmented by youthful talent.
Power balance: Louis Smith says his team-mates must show mental strength
But Smith, the Olympic bronze medallist on the pommel horse four years ago, has doubts.
‘We are a young nation in the sport and, although we are doing well, nobody knows what it is like to have expectation, which is why we completely blew out at the World Championships,’ he says of four of the team falling during their high-bars routine and missing out on Olympic qualification back in November.
‘Nobody has been in a position where success is expected. When we failed at the World Championships everybody was like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe this has happened”. The guys were like, “I don’t know what happened. I just slipped off”.
Looking forward: Smith is aiming to improve on his bronze medal of four years ago
‘But I was thinking that it was such a strong possibility that this could happen. I was trying to say to them that it was nerves. If you’re ready for a competition and you make uncharacteristic mistakes, more than once, it is nerves. I don’t think they will ever agree with me.’
So can they totally reverse their mistaken mindsets today or — if they do join the British women’s team who have already qualified — at the Olympics this summer
‘I don’t know,’ says Smith, a member of Sportsmail’s Magnificent Seven. ‘It took me two or three years to find a knack of dealing with pressure. You would struggle to do it in six months.
‘The most they can do is to be confident. I have told them to treat it like a training session, to be relaxed, have fun. I like to chill out at the competition. I listen to reggae music. Five minutes before I compete I put a T-shirt over my head and get in the zone.
‘I tell myself, “Look, I’ve done this hundreds of times. Just go up and do it. It’s not a stressful competition”. It is, though. I am just tricking myself.
‘When you are down on the floor and about to compete it is 100 per cent psychological.’
Handling the pressure: Smith relaxes in the gym
OUR MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Tom Daley, diver
Gemma Howell, judoka
Louise Watkin, Paralympic swimmer
Emily Pidgeon, athlete
Shanaze Reade, cyclist
Giles Scott, Finn sailor
Louis Smith, gymnast
Nobody can say that Smith does not
know what he is talking about in this sport that operates on the edge of
its nerves every finely-balanced second. His success in Beijing
represented the first individual Olympic medal by a British male gymnast
He has a Commonwealth title and a clutch of European and world medals to his name.
Smith is speaking in his rented flat
in Peterborough, a bolthole situated close enough to the chicken and
rice on offer at his mum’s house. His career to date has allowed him to
buy a plot of land in the nearby village of Helpston for 100,000. He is
developing it into a three-bedroom house.
Win gold in London and Smith will
retire at 22 to give his occupational injuries a break and to pursue
business interests — perhaps an adult version of Center Parcs, a
shirtless catering service or the media.
First, he must get to the Olympics.
Yes, Smith might be handed the one individual place in any case, but the
surest route presents itself in competition today.
The message to
the team of Keatings, Purvis, Ruslan Panteleymonov, Kristian Thomas and
Max Whitlock is simple: Keep Calm and Carry On.
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