Imogen Cairns will be defending her Commonwealth vault title in Delhi.
It’s a simple enough statement, but an extraordinary one given the fact that the ankle injury she sustained after competing in the Beijing Olympics required two operations and put her out of action for 15 months.
“Just for her to be here is absolutely amazing,” said the woman who has coached Cairns since the Portishead gymnast was six years old, Elizabeth Kincaid. “The doctors think she is a walking miracle.”
The 21-year-old from Portishead, who will also contest the floor exercises in which she took silver in Melbourne, indicated her return to competitive fitness by winning a local event in April this year, and went on to win the vault in a friendly international between Britain and Romania on August 10.
But despite her outstanding recovery, Cairns believes she would not have had the opportunity to compete in Delhi had it not been for the fact that England’s leading gymnasts will be missing the Commonwealths in order to contest the World Championships which start soon afterwards.
“I wouldn’t have been here otherwise,” she said as she stood in the international zone of the Athletes’ Village. “But we have a good squad, and it gives the opportunity for other young gymnasts to come through.”
Cairns’s 15-year-old team-mate Jocelyn Hunt added that there was a further reason for excitement among the less experienced England gymnasts when she explained that one of them would be selected for a trip to Rotterdam from 16-24 October.
“We’re part of the second team,” Hunt said. “The first team goes to the World Championships and they need a reserve so one of us will be selected. They’ll fly home on the ninth, spend a night with family and fly out to the Worlds the next day. The person will be chosen while we’re here.”
Having been in the Games Village for a couple of days – “It’s better than we have seen in the news. To be honest there’s nothing that’s been a worry” – Cairns is already relishing the prospect of competing in a major championships for the first time since 2008.
“We’ve been to the arena to train, and it’s massive,” she said. “It holds 15,000 people, although we are not expecting it to be full all the time. When you are competing you try not to take too much notice of the crowd because you need to focus on your performance, but in another part of your brain you register when team-mates and supporters are shouting to you.
“Australia and Canada are our two main rivals. Canada are sending their B team but they are still very strong so we will need to be in top form. We haven’t seen the Australians yet, but we’ve heard from the Scottish girls that they are looking very good in training. They have brought their A team.”
Kincaid is deliberately not playing up Cairns’s chances here. “Imogen is in excellent shape, but we don’t really talk in medals,” she said. “The team are just out to do a job and if we do that well, medals will come.”
Cairns, meanwhile, is already turning her thoughts to taking on those A team Aussies.
“Winning a Commonwealth title in Melbourne at the age of 17 was a brilliant experience, but I don’t think you can compare the two Games,” she said. “I am just really looking forward to competing here.”