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Interview: Hannah Whelan (Great Britain)
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Whelan at the 2008 British Championships

Hannah Whelan turned 16 on July 1, but this year's birthday celebration included a special gift that she earned herself: a berth on the 2008 British Olympic team.

After finishing third all-around and first on balance beam at the British Championships held in late June, Whelan was named one of six British female gymnasts set to compete at the Beijing Olympic Games in August.

Whelan is the second youngest member of the team that also includes 2006 world uneven bars champion Beth Tweddle (the only returning 2004 Olympian), Imogen Cairns, Becky Downie, Marissa King and Rebecca Wing.

Whelan's Olympian status is all the more impressive considering that she was only fourth all-around at the 2007 British Junior Championships.

Born in Singapore, Whelan is coached by Sarah Atwell at the City of Liverpool club, where her training partners include Tweddle. Whelan and the other members of the British Olympic team are currently in the final stages of preparation for Beijing, at the national team training center in Lilleshall.

In this IG Online interview, Whelan outlines her goals and expectations for Beijing, and the potential her British team has for success on the Olympic stage.

IG: How did you celebrate your birthday, being not only your Sweet 16 but also come soon after you were named to the Olympic team?

HW: I went out for a meal the Monday after the British Championships, which was when the selection was announced, just with my friends, my coach Sarah (Atwell) and my family. The Tuesday was my birthday when we began training at Lilleshall. When I came in they had a cake hidden at the back of the gym, which Corina (Morosan, national coach) gave me, and also a big card signed by everyone!

IG: How are you preparing yourself to handle the Olympic experience, especially being a first-year senior without World Championships experience?

HW: All the girls help me prepare and make me feel part of the team. I recently competed at the Doha Grand Prix (in Qatar) and several internationals along with the pressure of Olympic Trials, so I think I should be OK to handle it.

IG: What do you feel is special or different about this British team, which can help your team do its best in Beijing?

HW: It quite a young team which can help for us all to support each other. Obviously we have Beth and Becky Downie who are very strong, and the rest of us have quite high Start Values, so things look good for the whole team.

IG: What are your thoughts on each of the girls on the team, as far as their gymnastics strengths are concerned?

HW: Obviously the main girl is Beth who is very strong on bars but also in the all-around and she has great experience competing in major events, as has Beckie Downie. Becky Wing is very elegant especially on the floor, and she has very high Start Values so can score well. Similarly Laura and Marissa have the ability to score very well, particularly on their best pieces.

IG: How have your individual and team workouts changed between the time before the Trials, and this period leading up to the Games?

HW: We're now all training as a team, which means we can help each other out a lot more. Also we train with the national coaches all the time, which can help in making sure our routines are perfect in time for Beijing.

IG: How has clubmate Beth helped you over the years to reach Olympian status?

HW: Beth always helped me in the gym. Just the little comments help to pick you up if things are going wrong. She has the experience and she has had bad days in the gym, but it's good to know that she's gotten where she has by living through the same things that you are.

Tweddle and Whelan

IG: It's interesting to know that you were born in Singapore. Was this because your parents were working there at the time? And, when did you move to England?

HW: Yes, my dad was there because of his job. I moved over to England when I was 2.

IG: How old were you when you began gymnastics...and why gymnastics over other sports or hobbies?

HW: My mum did gymnastics when she was younger but more at recreational level, but I was the one who really wanted to get into it, having done cartwheels and handstands around the house when I was about 6 years old.

IG: Great Britain is now counted among the best teams in the world, having placed seventh at the 2007 Worlds. What are your realistic team and individual goals for Beijing?

HW: I just want to help the team achieve the best result we can, hopefully get into the team final and look to better the results that we got in the Worlds

IG: Making it to the Olympics at age 16, what other goals do you have in gymnastics beyond the 2008 Olympics?

HW: I would like to compete at Worlds and at Europeans, as I haven't done either of these yet, and I wouldn't mind doing (2010) Commonwealth Games as well! And hopefully carry on till 2012!

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