Team England ambassador Kristian Thomas remembers the flight to Melbourne as a 17-year-old, sat next to his idol Beth Tweddle, as he embarked on his first senior competition at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.
He won bronze for Team England that year and the Wolverhampton gymnast says returning to Australia for the Gold Coast 2018 Games would be a proud moment in his career.
Since Melbourne 2006 he has won gold with the men’s team at Glasgow 2014 alongside two silver medals in the vault and horizontal bar competitions.
And now we are excited to announce his inclusion in our Team England Athlete Ambassador programme, joining other leading and upcoming English talent to share their journeys towards Gold Coast 2018.
He spoke to us about his love for the Games, balancing his degree and training and that first awkward flight next to Tweddle.
“When I went to the 2006 Commonwealth Games I was a junior and very nervous,” said Thomas. “I ended up sat next to Beth on a 24-hour flight to Melbourne and it was completely surreal to be sat next to someone like her.
“The problem is that when I fall asleep I tend to twitch quite a lot so I had to tuck my arms under my seatbelts so I’d keep still!
“She was an inspiration to me because she has paved the way for gymnasts over the last 15 years.”
As a young boy he followed in his brother’s footsteps by joining gymnastics and soon began competing nationally.
He said: “I was five years old when I first started in gymnastics and I got involved through my older brother.
“He had a lot of excess energy, climbing all over trees, so my parents took him to a gymnastics class.
“My brother competed nationally and then he stopped at a young age and took up other sports, but I carried it on.”
But it wasn’t until he became a teenager that he realised just how far he could go in the sport and the success it would bring him.
“I was part of the Great Britain squad at 12 years old and managed to maintain that throughout my career, but at that age I wasn’t fully aware of what I was doing,” he said.
“It wasn’t until I competed for Great Britain at 14 years old when I thought ‘this is something different’. I enjoyed the challenge and it made me want to continue competing.”
Fast forward 11 years and the Commonwealth medallist and London Olympian is back at the University of Wolverhampton, balancing his training alongside his strength and conditioning degree.
In addition to these commitments, he also finds time to help with ex-Commonwealth Games England President Dame Kelly Holmes Trust’s Get on Track programme, a 14-month programme led by world class athletes to help disadvantaged young people improve their employability.
He said: “The programme tries to use athletes to inspire young people to reclaim their lives. We try and make them more employable by working on their teamwork and confidence by relating these messages back to our own lives in sport.”
Thomas will begin his training schedule for the Gold Coast at the end of summer where he’ll spend most days training for seven hours.
He said: “A normal training week is about 25 hours. Sunday is a day off and we’ll do double training sessions throughout the week, with a single session on Monday and Friday and a day off on Sunday.
“A single session is about three and a half hours so nutrition is incredibly important for recovery, as are ice baths, soft tissue massages, physio treatments and rehab exercises.
“Generally in the mornings I’ll eat some scrambled eggs, brown bread, a bit of fruit and coffee,” he said.
“I need to fuel up at lunch-time before afternoon training so I’ll have a large meal high in protein, carbohydrates like sweet potato or brown rice and plenty of vegetables and then a similar kind of meal in the evening.
“Then it’s about staying away from the dessert section, but the nice thing about gymnastics is we don’t have to maintain a specific weight like in other sports so it’s about what works best for you as there’s no drastic weight loss before a competition.”
This is the biggest and best prepared team to leave English soil for an overseas games and 28-year-old Thomas is in no doubt of the unique experience the Commonwealth Games gives to athletes.
He said: “The Glasgow Games wasn’t quite a home event but it’s as close as you can get competing at the Hydro in front of my friends and family.
“It still has that attraction to top athletes because it’s great to get together and be in the village and mingle with athletes from different sports – valuable experience when you compete in the Olympics and other multi-event competitions.”
The next 11 months are all about paving the way to the Gold Coast for Thomas as he told us nothing would make him prouder than to win more medals for Team England next April.