IG Online continues its annual tradition of featuring Irish gymnastics on St. Patrick's Day with an interview with rising star Andrew Smith, who hopes his world-class tumbling skills will lead him to a berth at the 2016 Olympic Games.
Andrew Smith (Ireland)
Born March 3, 1991, in Nottingham, England, Smith trains at Notts Gymnastics Academy. Smith's Irish lineage enables him to represent Ireland in major international competitions. He is coached by Bulgarian native Pavel Todorov, who moved to England in 2011 after 14 years in Malaysia. Smith's former coach, two-time British Olympian Barry Winch, serves as an Irish national team coach.
Smith is an all-around gymnast, but his extraordinary tumbling ability has earned him impressive results on floor exercise. Last year he placed 12th on floor exercise at the European championships in Montpelier, France; fourth on floor exercise at the Challenge Cup in Maribor, Slovenia; and eighth on floor exercise at the Challenger Cup in Doha, Qatar.
Smith's strength on floor helped Ireland rank a surprise third as a team on the event — behind only Russia and Great Britain — at the 2012 Europeans. His routine in 2012 included six passes: round-off, layout Thomas salto; round-off, 3-1/2 twist, punch barani; punch front layout, punch double-twisting front; round-off, Thomas salto; round-off, 2-1/2 twist, punch front-full; and round-off, triple twist.
This year Smith has big plans to not only build on his floor exercise credentials, but diversify his competitive success. He placed eighth on floor exercise in Saturday's qualification at the French International in La Roche-sur-Yon, in preparation for next month's Europeans in Moscow. This fall Smith aims for a strong all-around finish at the world championships in Antwerp.
Smith is also excited to be participating in the Pro Gymnastics Challenge, a head-to-head skills competition pitting U.S. gymnasts against an international cast, to be held May 10-11 at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. The event will be broadcast on ESPN2 from May 20-22.
In this IG Online interview, Smith describes his Irish heritage, and the gymnastics legacy he is determined to establish leading to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
IG: Since you were born in England and train there, how are you able to represent Ireland?
AS: I was born in Nottingham and that is where I have trained since I began gymnastics. My Irish roots come from my mum’s parents who were both fully Irish - my grandmother coming from Sligo, and my granddad from County Down. Also, my mum spent a lot of her childhood in Dublin and the west of Ireland, and a lot of my family is still living in Ireland. So I have always had very strong ties to Ireland, and now I'm thrilled to be competing for Ireland.
IG: To what do you attribute your international success on floor over the past year or so?
AS: Floor has always been one of my stronger events, but heavy preparation for each competition was a major factor. 2012 especially was a real breakthrough year for me, but success has come from years of work, so of course I'm happy to see that the hard work is now paying off.
Smith has become a floor exercise standout for Ireland
IG: Although you have been most successful on floor thus far, what are your plans for the all-around?
AS: Though floor is my standout event at the moment, I consider myself an all-around gymnast. I train every event equally, and it is definitely my plan to keep raising the standard of every event up to the 2016 Olympics. I did five events at the 2012 European Championships for Ireland, so of course for the team it is important for me to put up as many events as possible, too.
IG: In all of your tumbling passes on floor, you avoid handsprings altogether. What is your strategy with this approach?
AS: For me it isn't something I was taught. It was simply a technique that came about when I noticed I got a lot more power from my round-off than a back flick (handspring). Also, as I am a taller gymnast it can help me to fit everything into the diagonal by skipping the back flick. I see more and more people using this technique, as it gives you more space on the diagonal.
IG: What is the attitude of the Irish team, especially with the recent success that (2012 Irish Olympian) Kieran Behan and you have had?
AS: There is a great spirit behind the team, and it was great to compete together at the European Championships as it really highlighted this. But also just in training together we're always pushing each other to do more, which is great for us as individuals, but also for the team. We have a great squad now and we're really pushing hard to make the next few years count as we work up to Rio.
IG: What do you think it will take for you to qualify for the floor final in Moscow (Europeans next month), having come close at last year's Europeans?
AS: With the new Code (of Points) coming in, everyone has to modify their routines now. I plan to use the World Cup events before the Europeans to be fully prepared for the new skills I plan to put in. I have a lot of new skills I have been working that I can put in to up my difficulty more. It is just a matter of seeing what fits the best, but making sure the routine goes clean is always the number-one priority.
IG: What is your specific plan for qualifying for Rio?
AS: As the Irish team has come on so much in the last few years, we're trying to get a team to Rio. To do this we have to qualify through the world championships in 2014 and then 2015, so that is the route that we're all thinking of right now. However, we know the (Olympic) test event is another chance to get there, like my teammate Keiran Behan did last year, or a world championships medal at the 2015 Worlds, which, of course, is something that I strive for. But for right now we've planned everything around the team, so that is my main focus.
External Link: Gymnastics Ireland