There are many young sportsmen and women across the country whose dream is to represent Great Britain abroad in top competitions like the World and European Championships. For rhythmic gymnast Kezi Gore these ambitions became reality, but now she faces not competing again as a result of injuries and a need for more funding.
Rhythmic gymnastics is a sport that has never attracted large audiences or media coverage in this country, despite being one of the most graceful and picturesque Olympic sports. Funding was cut a few years ago but in the wake of London 2012 it has received a slight increase for the coming year.
However the sport is not funded on the same level as sports which have medal prospects, which is understandable, although the British group almost failed to receive a London place despite representing the host nation and being self-funded.
Gore said: “A lack of funding means lack of training facilities, lack of international competition and training experiences, lack of international squads, and more. This means lack of full potential for the gymnasts, coaching and full GB team.
“We have been given more funding this year, so hopefully it will be put to good use and various improvements will be made.”
One way to secure more funding and sponsorship would be if the profile of rhythmic gymnastics could be raised. In order to do this Gore thinks that more girls will have to take up the sport: “I think a good way to get more girls involved is to get the word out there and invite them to come and join a local club; open days are especially good for this, like we do in Canterbury.”
A series of injuries have meant that Gore hasn’t fully trained for a year and she will now miss a second consecutive British Championships. She has two all-around British titles and won two individual gold medals in 2011, beating Welsh Olympian Francesca Jones in the process.
Her best achievement came in the Youth Olympic Festival in Sydney when she took the all-around silver medal, becoming the first rhythmic gymnast from Britain to medal in the competition. Those heady days now seem a long way away.
Gore said that her injury is very complex: “I started with an Achilles and foot injury early on last year that had never fully recovered by the time I went back into action in the summer. It got bad again and then two weeks later I got a groin injury.
“Physios and osteopaths have been puzzled by my groin situation, and say it’s more than just a strain. It’s been over 6 months and although my foot has almost entirely recovered I daren’t say there has been much improvement in my groin. I am waiting to see a hip specialist so hopefully he can help.”
Most international gymnasts retire by the age of 24, but in Britain they rarely stay in the sport into their twenties.
The 18-year-old thinks that this is for a number of reasons: “In my experience many of my friends stopped due to school work becoming too much when they were training up to 20 hours per week. I’ve noticed that if you just do the sport as a ‘hobby’, or do not compete at a high athlete level, it doesn’t matter how many hours training that can require; the school will not put it above education and work.
“It is also a time when you become more independent; when your friends start going out more without you. It can be hard to keep motivated at training if you don’t often place high in competitions and so you’d rather be having fun with your friends.”
Obviously Gore won medals frequently and was a regular in the Great British team, so this would explain why she continues to hope that she can return to the sport. The best chance of British girls being successful internationally is always the Commonwealth Games and the next instalment is next year in Glasgow.
With that in mind, the gymnast still believes she might have the motivation to come back: “If I was yearning to get back into action I’m sure I could well do after the injury has cleared.
“If I did continue my main competition goal would be the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But we shall have to see what happens.”
However after such a long time without having to train extensive hours week after week there is always the chance that it would be tough to give the effort and dedication required after a long period out with injury.
But even if that does turn out to be the case Gore says she will still look back on her career with pride: “If I’m not that motivated it may be because I have proudly and thankfully looked back at all the achievements and fun times I have had during my time as a gymnast. So if it’s not in my path to continue then at least I know I have had a fortunate ride and I can be content with that.”
It can be difficult for top-level athletes to know what to do once competitive sport cannot offer them anything any more, especially when the sport does not have high exposure.
Despite her predicament Gore has kept in touch with the sport by coaching young pretenders at her local club in Canterbury.
This has given her another option if she does retire: “Since I’ve been out of action I have been doing a bit of coaching at my local club. I am really enjoying it and even though I pass down knowledge I have collected over the years about the techniques to be a better gymnast; I am learning something new about how to become a better coach each time too.
“I think I would enjoy carrying on coaching even if I stayed just part-time in the sport.”
In 2006 Kezi and her younger sister Jael became the first sisters to both win all-around British titles.
Jael is now a senior and when asked what it would be like to compete against her younger sibling Gore said: “I suppose I might not talk to her for a month if she did beat me!”