In September, Sam Oldham competed at the British Championships where he came away with a Team Bronze medal with The Notts Gymnastics Academy and the Gold medal in the High Bar, which was his final competition of his 21 years in the sport as he announced his retirement after the event. During his Team GB and Team England career, Sam has competed around the world in many competitions, becoming the first British man to win a major championships medal on High Bar at the European Championships in Moscow in 2013 and he was part of the Bronze medal-winning London 2012 Olympic Games team as well as competing in Glasgow for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Before becoming a senior gymnast, Sam had a successful junior career where he represented Team GB at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010. Sam appeared at the 2018 Superstars of Gymnastics at The O2 Arena and he is currently involved with Sports For Schools teaching gymnastics and working towards his gymnastics coaching qualification. We chatted to Sam about becoming the British High Bar champion at this year’s British Championships, his recent retirement from gymnastics and some of his highlights from his 21 years in the sport.
You recently competed at the British Championships which saw you win Gold on High Bar, how did it feel standing on the podium receiving your medal?
Winning the Gold medal in my final competition and with the very last routine of my career was a special feeling. To have all my family and close friends there supporting me in that moment was something that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.
With The Notts Gymnastics Academy, you came away with a Team Bronze medal, what was this like?
It meant a great deal to me winning the Bronze medal alongside my Notts Gymnastics Academy teammates. I grew up in that gymnastics club and some of my fondest memories were born in that beautiful gym. It holds a special place in my heart and when you train on the equipment you can almost feel the generations of talent that have come before you.
After the competition, you announced your retirement from gymnastics, how was it making the announcement and what will you miss most about being an elite gymnast?
The weeks leading up to my final competition were very difficult and I found it hard not to feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the decision I was making. However, in days before the event, I began to feel very calm and knew I’d made the right decision.
How have you found the experience being a gymnast during the pandemic and what was it like getting back to competing?
Training throughout the pandemic was a real challenge, even for someone as experienced as myself. I have so much admiration for all the young athletes that balanced the uncertainty of training with their schoolwork. I spent twenty-two weeks training out of my parents’ back garden and my bedroom. Coming back and training on all six apparatus as well as competing three times this year is one of my greatest achievements and something I’m extremely proud of.
What did you enjoy most about the experience at the London 2012 Olympic Games and the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games?
For me, the lasting memories of London 2012 were sharing that experience with my four teammates Max (Whitlock), Louis (Smith), Dan (Purvis) and Kristian (Thomas). We share a rare bond now that I’m sure will last a lifetime. Having my parents and siblings in the crowd was something I look back on and feel extremely grateful for. The Commonwealth Games was, in some ways, a living nightmare for me after suffering complete ruptures to all my left ankle ligaments. What happened in Glasgow and the things I went through in the following two years have shaped the man I am today though and I wouldn’t change that.
Can you tell us about some of the other senior competitions you’ve performed at which have included the European Championships where you won Silver on a number of occasions?
I was the first British man to ever win a major championships medal on the High Bar in 2013 at the European Championships in Moscow taking Silver. I repeated that feat twice in 2014 and 2015, just eight months after undergoing complete reconstructive ankle ligament surgery.
As a junior gymnast, you competed at the 2010 Singapore Youth Olympic Games, winning Gold on High Bar and Silver on Pommel Horse, what do you remember from this competition?
My memories of the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore are all positive and bring a big smile to my face. That was me announcing myself to the world in many ways and was such an exciting period in my career that spanned 21 years. We had such a strong team with the likes of Jade Jones and Tom Daley representing Team GB, who both went on to become Olympic Champions. It felt like I was part of something very special and a wider community of athletes aspiring to take it one step further in two years time.
Your gymnastics career has taken you around the world for competitions, how is it competing in different countries?
I loved travelling the world and it’s only now that I’ve appreciated how much that has shaped the way I see the world.
Do you have any favourite memories from being part of Team GB and Team England?
My favourite memories of being part of Team GB and Team England are probably the things that nobody gets to see behind the scenes. Just making each other laugh and being completely embraced in the moment, not realising the significance of what you’re a part of.
In 2018, you were part of The Superstars of Gymnastics at The O2 Arena, what was this like?
The Superstars of Gymnastics was a unique event of which I don’t think will probably ever take place again. So to be a part of that was amazing and all my family were able to be there to celebrate just how far we’d come along the journey. The O2 was the gymnastics venue for the London 2012 Olympics in gymnastics so, in many ways, we got to all re-live that experience.
We understand you give talks to schools and have run Wolfpack mentoring programs, can you say more about these?
I work for a company called Sports For Schools teaching children gymnastics and inspiring them to take up sport. It’s a great way to give back to the next generation and hopefully show them that anything is possible. My mentoring program is something that I created as a way to pass on all the knowledge and experience I gained throughout my career.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love conversations so in my spare time I enjoy talking with friends, family or getting outside for a walk with my beautiful girlfriend Connie. I’m also a big Manchester United fan and hope to start playing football again now I’ve retired from gymnastics. I read books, listen to podcasts, love music and, more than anything, get the most out of supporting others.
Are you hoping to continue in a sports-based environment in the future?
I have just started my gymnastics coaching qualifications and hope to stay involved with sport for the rest of my life. If I could give one piece of advice to anyone that’s struggling right now or finds themselves in a dark place – make sure the person that lives upstairs inside your head is on the same team as you and be kind to yourself.
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