After being a travelling reserve at the 2018 Commonwealth Games at the Gold Coast, Emil Barber was selected for Team Wales at the Games in Birmingham earlier this year, which saw him qualify for the Floor and Vault finals in artistic gymnastics. Other competitions for Emil this year have included the British Championships, where he made the Floor final, and in February, he won Gold on the Floor and Vault and Bronze in All-Around, Pommel Horse and Parallel Bars at the Welsh Championships. At last year’s Northern European Championships, Emil won Gold in the Team competition for Wales, and amongst his other competitions, he won Silver on Vault at the British Championships in 2018, and made his international debut at the age of 13. We chatted to Emil about competing for Team Wales at the Commonwealth Games this year, winning numerous medals at the Welsh Championships in February (including Gold on Floor and Vault) and being part of the Gold-winning team at the 2021 Northern European Championships for Wales.
How was it representing Team Wales at this year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and what was it like finding out you’d been selected for the team?
It was such an amazing experience to be able to represent Wales at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022, especially as I went to the 2018 Games as a travelling reserve.
What did you enjoy most about staying in the athletes village and how was it attending the opening/closing ceremony?
It was an experience like no other being able to walk around and just chat to a whole bunch of athletes from so many different countries. Unfortunately, as gymnastics was on the first day of the Games, we didn’t go to the opening ceremony but we did go to the closing ceremony and it’s going to be one of those memories that’ll stick with me for life.
How did you find the experience competing at the Arena Birmingham and what was it like qualifying for the Floor and Vault finals?
Birmingham Arena is the biggest arena I’ve ever competed in and it was packed full of Welsh supporters getting behind myself and the team which created such an amazing atmosphere for us to compete in.
With only doing two pieces, the whole aim is obviously to qualify for finals, so to actually go out there, put on two great performances on the first day and qualify for both finals was such an amazing moment for myself and my coaches.
How did you prepare for your finals and what were they like to compete in?
Preparation for a final for me wasn’t any different to the team comp, the only real difference is that you’re out there competing one at a time and you don’t have the team around you, but I was lucky enough to have another team member make the Floor final so we just got behind each other and supported each other the whole way.
Do you have any stand-out highlights from being part of Team Wales at the Commonwealth Games?
The highlight of being part of Team Wales at the Commonwealth Games would 100% be how strong a crowd we had. It was so motivating hearing all the Welsh supporters cheering and screaming in the crowd.
You competed at the British Championships earlier this year, and qualified for the Floor final, how was this?
Making Floor final at the British was a massive step in pushing for a Floor final at the Games as we have some extremely talented Floor workers in Britain, but it was also kind of used as a first run through of what the Games could potentially be like, providing everything goes right, which it did.
In February, you won Gold in the Floor and Vault and Bronze in the All-Around, Pommel Horse and Parallel Bars at the Welsh Championships, what was it like competing at these Championships and how did it feel winning numerous medals?
It’s always an amazing competition competing in our Welsh Championships with the rest of the Welsh boys, we always have a good laugh and enjoy ourselves.
The scores would’ve been used as part of the selection policy, so we all had to go out and put on a show and I can happily say I did that whilst collecting some great scores, which helped get me into that Commonwealth Games team.
Can you tell us about your time at the Northern European Championships last year, which saw you win Team Gold as part of Wales?
Northern European Championships is actually hard to put into words because we all knew that we were capable of winning and had been saying it the whole lead-up, so to actually go out there and prove it to everyone was amazing.
What are some of your favourite highlights from your gymnastics career so far, which has seen you win the Silver medal on Vault at the 2018 British Championships?
A lot of people may not quite understand this but not making the 2018 Commonwealth Games team is probably one of my biggest highlights as it really motivated and pushed me to make this one even more than before.
2018 British was amazing as I’d been working to get those vaults for so long and to get them both clean at the British and medal was such a memorable moment that’ll stick with me forever.
Do you remember how you felt competing for Team Wales for the first time?
This story is one I’ll never forget because I was 13 when I was sent to my first international, which would’ve been one of the first times I went away without my mum, so I was extremely nervous. It also would’ve been the first time I’d have met some of the senior gymnasts at the time. The night before, I was that nervous I slept on the chair in the room with my blanket and only got a few hours. In the morning, I had a coffee because it’s supposed to wake you up but I hate coffee. It all turned out alright though because I went to the competition and came 3rd.
Have you been given any advice over the years that has stuck with you and what advice would you give a young gymnast starting out?
I think one stand-out piece of advice I’ve been given and would pass on is soak up and enjoy every moment of it because not everyone gets to travel the world doing what they love.
What is a typical training day for you and how does it change in the lead-up to a major competition?
A typical training day for me really depends on what day it is and if I have a double session or not.
Double session day: I’d probably get up around 9:30/10am, get breakfast, shower and get ready for gym at 12. If we have no competitions coming up, the whole day would be learning new skills and maybe a few combinations, but if there’s a competition coming up it’d probably be half routines or fulls in the morning session and fixing the problem areas in the second session.
Where does your love of gymnastics come from and had you always wanted to be an elite gymnast?
I was just a very energetic, sporty child so my mum put me into gymnastics so I wasn’t running around the house being a pain all the time, and it was a much safer place for me to throw myself around than on my bed or the sofas.
Do you have any upcoming competitions that you can tell us about or that you are targeting?
As of right now, there are no targets set but I’m sure that’ll change very soon, but as always, I just want to keep improving my gymnastics and see where that takes me.
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