Sam Oldham, one of Team GB’s medal-winning gymnasts, is currently preparing for the British Team Championships now he has returned to full fitness after his recent injury. Having been part of the British gymnastics team at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Sam is hoping to qualify for a place on the team going to Tokyo 2020. In between his extensive training, Sam has taken the time to talk to us about getting back to full fitness after injury, a standard training day and what it’s like being part of Team GB.
What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
The highlight of my career so far has to be competing at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Winning a bronze medal for Great Britain with my teammates in front of a home crowd is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Just to make it onto an Olympic team is incredible but to win your country’s first medal in over a century alongside close friends is very special.
What is the most challenging part of being a gymnast?
For me, the injuries are the most difficult part of gymnastics, particularly as I’ve gotten older. When I was a teenager, it was much easier for me to recover from injuries and I would bounce back much quicker. Having time out from doing what you love is tough, especially when it’s not something you can do forever. Gymnastics is a young man’s game and that inevitability of having to hang up the handguards at an early age is mentally challenging.
Are you back to full fitness after your recent injury?
I’m now back to full fitness and training on all six of the men’s events after my recent injury. I hyperextended my knee in the summer and was very lucky to have not done serious damage. It was a real career flashing before my eyes moment, but luckily I escaped with just some minor damage to my knee. However, it meant I was forced to withdraw from the World Championships qualification process and begin a rehab program. When I started the recovery process, my hamstring was 49% weaker on my right side. It’s now fully recovered and the strength and flexibility are back to 100, thanks to the brilliant EIS support staff and lots of hard work on my part.
Do you have any competitions that you are training for at the moment?
Right now I’m training for a competition called the British Team Championships which will take place in two weeks. Twelve months ago, I returned to train at Notts Gymnastics Academy with my lifelong coach, where I started the sport when I was seven years old. We have a squad of six senior men’s gymnasts now and, as a club, are competing in this event for the first time in over a decade!
What is a standard day for you when you are in training?
A day of training for me involves me waking up at 8am and having my porridge and Wyldsson ProMix for breakfast. I will reply to emails, edit YouTube videos and have physio treatment in the morning. I will have lunch around midday, which will be two eggs on toast and a coffee. My training session will be from 12:30 until 16:30 and will be gymnastics-based, working on my routines or new skills I’m looking to add for 2018. Then I’ll have my PAS MGF-1 Strawberry protein shake to recover and usually an apple or a cereal bar. At 5pm I will head to David Lloyd Clubs West Bridgford to do my strength and conditioning session. That usually lasts for one hour and then I will chill out in the sauna and jacuzzi. I eat dinner around 7pm and it will be chicken or salmon with wet potato and vegetables. After that, I usually go on social media and watch football on TV, I’m a big Manchester United fan! I’ll read a book before heading to bed at 11:30 and repeat that process six days a week.
What’s been your favourite country to visit as a gymnast?
My favourite country to visit is Australia! I travelled there in 2009 for a competition and absolutely loved it! Next year is the Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast which is a huge target of mine. My dad was born there and hasn’t been back since he was two years old! It would be amazing to be selected for Team England and have my family there supporting me.
Who’s been the biggest influence on your career?
The biggest influence on my career has been my long-term Russian coach Sergey Sizhanov. He’s one of the best junior gymnastics coaches in the world having lead three junior European teams to gold in the past decade. His role in helping Great Britain to now be one of the major forces in men’s gymnastics has been huge and I’m very proud to have him as my personal coach. I would say his best quality is his love for the sport and his ability to get the best out of all different types of personalities from completely different backgrounds. We are more than just athlete and coach, we are great friends and it’s amazing to travel the world together.
At what age did you get into gymnastics?
It was a teacher that suggested to my mum that she take me along to gymnastics. I was super hyperactive and getting into trouble at school and needed an outlet for all my energy. Even now, at twenty-four, I still just love to fly through the air and bounce around just as much as I did when I first walked through the gym doors.
What advice would you give to a young gymnast?
My advice to young gymnasts or anyone getting into sport is that you have to love the game. The winning is great but the journey is what you will remember when you’re older. Most of my favourite gymnastics memories are the times spent with my teammates having fun doing what we love. Work hard and make sure you’re enjoying it!
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
The best piece of advice I’ve been given that I still have to try and remember to this day is to always make sure you can go again tomorrow. Growing up, I was always the hardest worker in the gym! I’d always finish training last, sometimes missing out on lunch if it was at GB training camps. If something wasn’t going right with my gymnastics, my reaction was always to do more and more until I corrected it. This approach lead to me having lots of wear and tear type injuries and cost me precious time competing in my late teenage years and early twenties. It was an incredible physio called Simon Spencer who gave me this advice as I was coming back from a career-threatening ankle injury sustained whilst competing at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. It’s always stuck with me and is a constant question I ask myself in the gym.
For people wanting to do gymnastics full-time, what are your tips for starting out?
People looking to get into gymnastics full time at any age should always remember to enjoy it first. You have to love the process which is going to be filled with plenty of ups and downs. Flexibility is just as important as strength and one of the best investments you can make as a gymnast is improving your spatial awareness. I spent hours as a kid on the trampoline just throwing myself into the foam pit doing twists and somersaults, essentially learning where I was in the air. Basics are the foundations of your gymnastics and will save you lots of time learning the big skills if you master them early on. I used to watch my idols religiously when I was learning my craft and still do to this day. I would have loved to have had YouTube or Instagram when I was starting out!
What’s it like representing your country?
Representing my country is something I take great pride in. I grew up in a family that are sports mad and appreciate the positive impact sport can have on someone’s life. To go out and compete for my country, my family and my teammates is a huge honour!
What’s the best thing about being a part of Team GB?
The best thing about competing for Team GB aside from the awesome kit is definitely feeling part of a huge team. Each sport get behind one another, and at a major games, you really feel that and it honestly lifts your performance to another level.
You’ve been part of the Sky Scholarship program for the past few years, how does this scheme work?
The Sky Scholarships program is an amazing project run by Sky Sports. They choose a group of athletes each Olympic cycle they believe will benefit the most from their incredible support. It involves financial support to aid training, equipment, travel costs and much, much more. They also offer media training and mentoring aspect to the program where each athlete is partnered with someone from within the Sky Sports world. I was lucky enough to be paired up with Geoff Shrives, the football pundit, which was amazing. He had so much experience within the world of sport and was always someone I could call if I needed some advice. We remain good friends and he came to watch me compete earlier this year at the O2.
How did you decide to start a YouTube channel?
I began putting videos on YouTube when I was around sixteen years old. I always used to video myself in the gym training and, as social media started growing, I wanted to showcase the gymnastics I had been working on in the gym. At the beginning, there were a bunch of us doing montage videos and that’s developed into vlogging. The popularity of gymnastics is on the up so it’s great you have guys like Nile Wilson and Jay Thompson raising the profile of the sport in the UK through their YouTube channels. I enjoy putting content out there and hope it gives people an insight into what it’s like to be a full-time professional gymnast.
Would you one day like to get into the presenting side of gymnastics?
I was lucky enough to do some commentary for the BBC at the London Olympic Games and it’s something I would definitely love to do more of. I think the key is having a wealth of technical knowledge but being able to engage the people watching on TV that maybe haven’t seen the sport before. Gymnastics is such a complicated sport interns of the scoring system that people can lose interest. But I think over the next few years the sport will head into a new era with more show-like events which really will capture the public’s attention! I’d love to be a part of that and help the sport get the attention it deserves.
You must have your sights on Tokyo 2020, how will you ensure you’re in the best position to get a place on the team?
Once I had made the decision to target the Tokyo Games, I knew it would be a massive commitment. I have taken the past year to give myself a bit of a breather and to recharge the batteries both physically and mentally. I’m in a really good place now in and out of the gym. I made changes to my training set-up by returning back to Nottingham and have everything in place I need to succeed in the next three years. There have been some changes to the way in which you qualify as a country to the Olympic Games for 2020 which really favour all-around gymnasts. My priority is staying healthy and being in the gym as much as possible. My level of gymnastics is good enough to compete with the best athletes in GB and I need to focus on consistency throughout 2018. I feel I have my best gymnastics still left in me and I’m excited to take on the world alongside my coach and teammates in the next few years. My first goal is to qualify for the Commonwealth Games team in April where I have some unfinished business! Bring on 2018!
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