LONDON (Reuters) - Pain and Beth Tweddle have been constant companions since the 2006 world asymmetric bars champion broke her left foot warming up for the British championships eight years earlier.
In 1999 pins were removed from her ankle. A year later the joint required manipulation under a local anesthetic.
Flaking bone was removed in 2001 before surgery on both ankles in 2002. Two years later she underwent surgery on a torn bicep tendon.
“I’ve had enough injuries to last me a lifetime,” Britain’s first world gymnastics champion told Reuters in a telephone interview during a break from training for the Beijing Olympics.
“In a way it’s made me a stronger person, it’s made me more determined to go out and prove to people that an injury isn’t going to stop me.”
“I think every athlete competes through certain aspects of pain. I guess that’s just part of the sport.
“I don’t tumble on hard floors every day. Some days on soft, some days on hard. I can’t compete every weekend so I have to be a bit more selective.
“I guess it does get harder as you get older but you just have to be more sensible. My physios keep a good eye on me.”
Tweddle, born in South Africa on April 1, 1985, and raised in the northwest county of Cheshire, has been forced to fight her way to the top without the aid of the state-backed programs of the United States, Russia or China.
“I’m very lucky, the club I’m at is one of the top in the country. I’ve got all the facilities I need, I can access the gym any time of any day of the week,” she said.
“So I’m lucky but there are limited high-performance facilities around the country. In America and everywhere they have facilities and the money comes into it.
“I’m fine but I always had to travel an hour to the gym when I was young.”
Intriguingly, Tweddle’s personal Web site (www.bethtweddle.com) describes her as energetic but also reluctant when her parents introduced her to gymnastics at a local club.
“I was an energetic kid around the house but I was reluctant to start gymnastics. I didn’t use to like it,” she explained.
“I tried a lot of other sports and basically they (her parents) wanted to channel my energy and a couple of friends went so they said ‘why don’t you go with them?’
“I had tried ballet, I had tried horse-riding, I had tried hockey, I had tried swimming.”
As Tweddle’s potential became apparent, she began to train harder.
“When I was first training it was probably three or four days a week, three or four hours at a time. Nowadays I train up to 30, 36 hours a week,” she said.
Tweddle won her first British title in 2001 but was thwarted by a succession of injury setbacks on the international stage.
She was injured qualifying in second place in the all-round at the 2005 European championships and hurt her knee shortly before the bars finals at the world championships in the same year.
In the following year, she was forced to withdraw from the Commonwealth Games with an ankle injury before triumphing at the worlds, where she relegated American defending champion Nastia Liukin to second place on the asymmetric bars.
Tweddle, who failed to qualify for the bars final at the 2004 Athens Olympics, now looks forward to climaxing her career in Beijing. She said the 2012 London Olympics were “too far away.”
Tweddle has also found time to study, graduating from Liverpool John Moores University in June 2007 with a Sports Science degree.
“I trained for a year in 2004 with no education, nothing and I actually found it really hard. That’s why I made this decision to go to uni,” she said.
“I actually found they complemented each other. Once I finished my training I was able to switch off and go and have a normal life and then vice-versa, if I was struggling with some coursework in uni I could sort of switch off for it and say ‘I’m going to train’ and when I came back I was refreshed and I could just say ‘I’m going to get on with it’. I actually found it helped me to do my university work.
“I just found it too hard training full time, I couldn’t switch off from my training.”
Tweddle compares notes with 13-year-old diver Tom Daley, who has qualified for the 10 meters diving competition in Beijing.
“I’m on a scheme called Team Visa. There’s about eight of us,” she said. “I speak to Tom quite a bit. His sport is quite similar to mine.”
How does she cope with the pressure of expectations in a country with no real gymnastics tradition?
“I try not to think about it. My coach tries to keep me away from the limelight and basically I have to put it to the back of my mind. I’ve got enough pressure which I put on myself without worrying about other pressure,” she said.
Editing by Clare Fallon