After helping make British gymnastics history at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Jennifer Pinches is taking on unplanned new challenges as a freshman gymnast at UCLA.
Pinches competing for UCLA
Pinches, a member of the British team that finished a historical-best sixth place at the London Games, returned to competition in January at the start of the NCAA season. She enrolled at UCLA last fall, after a year away from gymnastics training during which time she did volunteer work in Ecuador and developed a best-selling mobile game application.
Born May 25, 1994, in Turnbridge Wells, England, Pinches was a key member of the British team in the last Olympic cycle. Among other accomplishments as a junior, she placed second all-around at the 2007 Olympic Hopes meet in the Czech Republic, and 10th at the 2009 European Youth Olympic Festival in Finland.
Pinches competed at the 2010 World Championships in Rotterdam, where she finished 32nd all-around in qualifications and seventh with her team. She was 37th all-around and fifth with her team at the 2011 Worlds in Tokyo, and 21st all-around in qualifications at the 2011 European Championships in Berlin.
In British Championships competition, Pinches placed third all-around in 2011; and second all-around, first on balance beam and second on vault in 2012. She was second at the 2011 English Championships and first at the 2012 English Championships.
Pinches placed 21st in qualifications at the 2012 London Olympics, where her teammates included her City of Liverpool club training partners Beth Tweddle, Hannah Whelan and Rebecca Tunney. Imogen Cairns, the other member of the British team in London, was coached by Pinches’s first coach, Liz Kincaid.
IG spoke with Pinches following UCLA’s meet against Arizona State University in Los Angeles on Feb. 8, where she competed on vault and performed an exhibition floor exercise.
IG: What did you do between the time you finished competing in London and the time you decided to come to UCLA?
JP: I felt I was finished with my Elite career. I’d achieved everything I’d always hoped to achieve, so I was really happy with that. I couldn’t finish on a better high than at the London Olympics in my home country. I wanted to do some other things. My cousin and I went to Ecuador for two months, and we did loads of volunteer work for a company called Camps International. We built playgrounds for kids, worked in rescue aquariums and taught English. We also did activities I couldn’t do before because I might get injured. I went mountain-biking, climbed a mountain and went snorkeling in the Galapagos Islands. It was crazy. I did that and settled down for a little bit. I had a little time to relax (laughs), then went back to school and did my A-levels (exams for university acceptance).
IG: When did get the idea to return to gymnastics at UCLA?
JP: I was on holiday with my family, and Miss Val (UCLA head coach Valorie Kondos Field) sent me an email. I knew her through (British teammate and UCLA sophomore) Danusia (Francis), and thought, “Why not? I’ve had a good break, so why not come to college and see what it’s like?” It’s not something I thought about before, but after that break, which I felt I really needed, I was like, “OK, let’s go to L.A. Sounds like fun!”
IG: How long was it from the last time you set foot in a gym till you got the email?
JP: I hadn’t trained at all since the Olympics. Val contacted me last spring. It was actually quite last-minute for me, because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to get my visa in time, and there was a lot of paperwork to be done. I came on my official (recruiting) visit a few weeks before I actually started. It was all kind of rushed, but coming here was something I couldn’t say no to. It’s obviously an amazing university and a group of inspirational people.
IG: It’s one thing to get back into shape, but another to get back into competitive shape. How challenging has that been for you?
JP: Clearly I had a lot of time off, and I wasn’t thinking about doing gymnastics again, so I wasn’t thinking about staying flexible or fit or anything. I started training properly again when I got here, in September. It took about two months to get some skills back that were reasonable. I’m still getting fit now. It didn’t help that I broke the fourth toe on my right foot just before Christmas. That was annoying. I had gotten nearly everything back, so I’m back at the stage where I almost have everything back and I’m just coming back to fitness. Hopefully in the next few meets I’ll b able to do more.
IG: What do you think of your progress on vault and floor so far, especially after the broken toe?
JP: Any little setback is annoying. I’m still trying to get back into the shape I was in. I know my vault can be better and my floor can be better, but gladly it’s still good enough where I can go out and compete for the team. I’ve competed twice (this season) on floor, both times as exhibition, but hopefully soon I will compete for a score that counts.
IG: How satisfied are you with your current tumbling passes (1-1/2 twist through to double twist; double tuck, punch stag jump; double pike)?
JP: At the Olympics I did a 1-1/2 twist through to a triple twist, so my tumbling is not quite back yet.
IG: Do you think you’ll get the triple twist back?
JP: You never know. I’m getting better all the time. Maybe I’ll do a 2-1/2 twist, and a full-in, which I also did at the Olympics. I’ve done the double tuck-stag jump for a long time. But I feel quite confident that I can bring some good routines to the team soon.
IG: How are things coming on bars and beam?
JP: My beam is also good. I broke my toe on the beam, on a dismount. It was one of those fluke, one-off things where my toe was just on the edge of the beam, and when I jumped on it, it fractured a bit. I just need to get my beam dismount back, and I’m ready to go on beam. On bars, it’s just getting my dismount. So I’m so close to where I want to be, but there’s still a bit more work to do.
IG: How are you getting yourself mentally back into competitive mode?
JP: I feel I haven’t really lost it. We do a lot of mental work, because obviously your mind needs to train as much as your body. They both need to be equally very strong to put out a good routine under pressure in competition. I just want to go out and enjoy it, and perform. I feel it’s been something I’ve been able to carry on doing.
IG: How has the adjustment to life in the U.S been, culturally?
JP: It’s definitely taken some getting used to. I had a lot to learn when I came here, including how stuff works here. Even some of little vocabulary issues, where I’ll say something and someone will go, “What did you say?” And I say, “Sorry, I didn’t realize that was an English expression.” Things are settling OK. It’s more different than I thought it would be, but I’m really enjoying it.
IG: What is your course load like this quarter?
JP: I’m taking psychology, sociology and Scandinavian literature. We wanted to make sure we had easier schedules during the season so we weren’t overly stressing about hard classes and competing.
IG: What is your major?
JP: I want to be a psychology major. I like the way it’s a mixture between science and almost like the art side of explaining things. I’m good at writing but I like the biological side of it, too, so I think it’s a really good combination.
IG: How did you develop the game app?
JP: I’m always up for new challenges. My boyfriend (in England) is a computer programmer, so we just thought, “Why not? Let’s make an app!” Everyone wants apps, and everyone has an iPhone these days, so we made an iOS (mobile operating system) called Laser Chambers. It’s a strategy game where you have to move things about to get to the next room. There are all these rooms, and there’s a story with it. It was just really fun to make and another little project to do. We got quite a lot of success out of it, as well. I think it was number one in 16 countries at one point. It’s 69 pence, or $.99 in the U.S. It took us a while to make.
IG: What thought are you giving to developing more of them?
JP: That would be cool. We learned a lot doing it, so if we made another one, there are definitely things we could do better. It was a lot of fun, but hey – if it made us some money and we can do it better next time, maybe we can make some more money (laughs).
IG: What did you get from your experience in London?
JP: It exceeded all of my expectations. Initially, when I was younger, I thought it would be bad (laughs) because it was in my home country, because I love traveling. But as I got older, I thought how amazing it would be in front of the home crowd. But going there and experiencing it was a whole new world, literally. There is nothing else like it, and it will stay with me forever. I’m really proud of how everyone on our team did, and I wouldn’t change it at all.
IG: What do you think of the current British team?
JP: I feel the juniors and new seniors are going to be so successful. They’re doing so well already. I’m so excited for them to get on the senior scene, and hopefully continue the legacy that we’ve built upon for Great Britain. I feel we’re improving all the time, and it’s really exciting for me to keep up with them at home and seeing how they’re continuing to improve.
IG: Danusia competed at last summer’s University Games in Kazan. What thought are you giving to future international competitions?
JP: I felt I was finished with my Elite career after the Olympic Games, so I feel that’s a chapter I’ve closed. I’m really enjoying competing in college, but I’m not sure if I’m committed enough to go back in and put myself back on the Elite scene again.
IG: You retired from international competition at 18, which is young, so it seems you could return to international gymnastics if you wanted…
JP: That’s why I was able to have however long off and still come back and do college gymnastics. Gymnasts like Oksana Chusovitina and Beth Tweddle are proving that you don’t have to be that young to be a good gymnast. I’m just happy competing for UCLA right now, and enjoying the experience. I’m really grateful to be given this opportunity, for Miss Val to have considered me to come here even though I’d had so much time off, and just being accepted and welcomed into this team. Every single person on the team has a champion quality to them, which hopefully we’re going to let shine for the national championship. I’m really grateful to be here, and to my old coaches back home. They set me off and gave me the past experience that meant I could then come to do things like this.
International Gymnast magazine's recent coverage of British gymnasts and coaches includes:
"Shooting Star" – Brinn Bevan profile (June 2013)
Imogen Cairns and British men's team on cover photo collage (March 2012)
"No Turning Back Now" – Imogen Cairns profile (January/February 2012)
"10 Questions with Coach Paul Hall" – interview (January/February 2010)
"European Brilliance" - Ruby Harrold interview (September 2013)
Sam Oldham on cover photo collage (July/August 2010)
Sam Oldham interview (June 2010)
"Nervous Purvis" – Daniel Purvis profile (November 2012)
"Pure Purvis" – Daniel Purvis interview (March 2012)
Daniel Purvis cover photo (November 2011)
"Bright for Britain" – Niamh Rippin profile (July/August 2010)
"Sibling Revelry" – Angel and Venus Romaeo profile (September 2010)
"Welsh Wisdom" - Raer Theaker profile (October 2013)
"Divide and Conquer" – Kristian Thomas interview (May 2012)
"The Good Shepherd" – Coach Ed van Hoof interview (April 2013)
"Lord Max" – Max Whitlock interview (June 2013)
"Lilleshall: Backstage in Britain" – cover story on British national program (November 2011)
To subscribe or order back issues, click here.