Monday, July 25, 2011

Olympic Memories by Andrew Morris

It was a time of trophies and travel when gymnast Andrew Morris spent years at the elite level of sport.

Andrew, from Treboeth in Swansea, competed in two Olympic Games – in Los Angeles in 1984 and four years later at Seoul in 1988.
That was on top of numerous Welsh and British titles and a career that took him across the globe.....
“I was born in Swansea and I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve travelled all over the world with my sport but I still remain in Swansea because it’s a fantastic place to live.
“I started gymnastics when I was eleven - which is quite late for a gymnast - at Penlan Comprehensive  School. My PE teacher encouraged me. His name was Leigh Jones and he was a competitive gymnast himself at the time.
“He inspired me. He must have seen something in me. At the time I was doing other sports, like playing football, but I went to gymnastics because I enjoyed the variety that it gave me.
“Gymnastics is an individual sport. Everybody wants to be the best so, even though you are competing in a team, you still have to do an individual performance.
“It’s not like a sport such as rugby where you can have a bad game but still win or have a good game and lose. With gymnastics it’s what you do as an individual. You are friendly with all the other competitors and you want your nation to do well, but you also want to do better than the others. That’s where the competition comes in.
“My first major memorable occasion was winning my first British Championship. The second one was being selected by my country to represent them at the Olympic Games.
“I won 10 Welsh Championship titles in a row, five British titles in a row.
“My first major competition, out of Britain, was the World Championships in Moscow in 1981. I’ve also done Commonwealth Games, European Championships, and, of course, the biggest of them all – the Olympics.
“One of my biggest memories is walking out for the opening ceremonies and seeing all those people in the stadium – it was an amazing sight.
“With the boycotts in 1984, Great Britain qualified a full team and we had six gymnasts competing. In 1988 there was just the two of us, which made the experience quite different.
“I think the Seoul Olympics was probably the most difficult competition for me. It was a major Olympics and all the countries were there. It was big after the boycotts of 1980 and 1984. I got injured in training when I was out there and three days before I was suffering. It was a case of recovering and trying to get ready for the event.
“You always get nervous at the events. All I used to do when I was stood on the podium in a major event was to think ‘well, I’ve done all the training, I’ve done all the work in the gym, done all the routines. If it goes wrong then it’s going to go wrong. Just go with the flow’.
At those Games, Andrew performed well.
He finished 24th in the overall standings, the top British placed competitor, as his team finished in ninth place in Los Angeles. It proved tougher in Seoul, with qualifying round finishes in all disciplines in a competition dominated by the Soviet Union.
“When I was competing and winning competitions, my personal trainer had a job so he could only be with me in the evenings. I used to train in the mornings for three hours and then another three hours every evening. We did that five or six days a week, which is quite rigorous. It takes alot of work,” said Andrew.
“Food is really important. Whatever you do in gymnastics you’re carrying your body weight around all the time. You are lifting your body weight, so if you are eating the wrong foods and too heavy then it’s more difficult to compete and train. What you have to do is have a balanced diet that gives you a lot of energy without giving you a lot of starch and food that’s going to sit on you.
“If you’re going to do the sport you do it 100%. There’s no point doing it 50% because you’re wasting your time. So you do it 100% at the time and then you look at your career and you decide when you’re going to finish. You concentrate 100% until that time.
The sport, and Swansea, hasn’t lost Andrew’s experience and knowledge. He’s is now a Sports Development Officer for Swansea Council and runs the City of Swansea Gymnastics Centre on Fforestfach Industrial Estate.
He is a fully qualified International Performance Coach in both men’s and women’s artistic gymnastics and oversees the technical programme, performance planning and funding for technical disciplines in Wales.
He added:
“My dream is to introduce as many people as possible to the sport that has given me such a good lifestyle and great memories.
“It’s a very technical sport. It’s difficult to come from outside of gymnastics and learn how to provide the skills for the kids without having felt it yourself. Physically feeling the sport and being in fear when you are upside down.
“I’ve had three gymnasts who have gone to the Commonwealth Games and one of those gymnasts actually coached another gymnast to go. You’ve passed on skills to your performers and they are carrying it on. That is something I’m very proud of to be honest.
“I would say to parents, put your children into pre-school gymnastics – what we call tumblies. They can do that from one year-old up to three years-old so they can learn how to handle their body and how to be co-ordinated. It’s a foundation for all other sports.
“We have taken on a recreational gymnastic co-ordinator who is going to schools and leisure centres to introduce children to gymnastics as early as possible and some competition.
“Nationally, gymnastics has never been higher profile. It’s never going to be one of the main sports like football or rugby but it’s definitely increasing in popularity.”
Thanks to Phil Cope and the Follwing the Flame exhibition for access to materials: