Beijing Olympics: Final countdown for six British hopefuls - Telegraph
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So that's what I started doing. Even on Sundays, his day off, he starts with a minute run, and when he's resting between training sessions he tries to stay off his feet completely. As for relationships, like Richard Kruse, he has decided they will have to wait until after He is the best in Britain but, to be truly world class, he needs take at least 20 more seconds off his time - which is why his ultimate goal is London.
He doubts there will be another big leap. Now, it's about training and waiting. And if I don't, I want to know that I gave it per cent, that I couldn't have done any more. A few minutes later, he takes most of his clothes off. Shortly after that, he takes his right leg off. He is the best advertisement for its technology: Today, he has driven from his home in Cardiff to see the new carbon fibre-spiked running blade he will use in Beijing, and to make some adjustments to his artificial leg.
The sleeve that holds it on works by suction; in the sweaty conditions expected in China McFall is worried it might not hold, so his prostheticist is experimenting with a harness for added security.
There will be constant adjustments in the run-up to Beijing: McFall lost his leg in a motorcycle accident in Thailand at the age of He says the grieving process was intense, but short. It was just one of those things.
It's how I define myself mentally, as well as physically. I get terribly frustrated stuck on a couch, unless I'm knackered from training. But he got a job as a fitness instructor before taking up his place at university, and began running to see how far he could go.
Once he had the right tools, it seems there was very little he couldn't do, although he had to let go of his ambition to follow his dad - an ex-Para - into the Army's elite forces. If I'd lost my leg below the knee, maybe I would have pushed those boundaries, but losing a knee makes such a difference to your mobility on difficult terrain. He's full of plans, and seems to have found a balance: Athletics has never been his life passion, he says, 'I just fell into it, if you'll excuse the pun.
Disabled sport is still establishing standards of excellence that future athletes can aspire to, and McFall is determined to push them as far as he can. A few weeks after we met, he flew to South Africa for warm weather training, joining a fully fit Mo Farah. On their return both were pleased with what they had achieved, and John reported that the harness worked well.
He has a long list of other things he wants to do before he's 30, including rowing the Atlantic and running across the Gobi Desert. But some will have to wait until he retires: It would be irresponsible to risk injury now, although he admits he has done a couple of sky-dives and a few bungee jumps, just for fun.
He's also recently bought a moped for getting around Cardiff. But it is only when I walk into the reception area that I realise Britain's top gymnast trains in a community sports hall. She strides in soon after, a diminutive figure with a shy smile, swaddled in sweat clothes. She walks down the corridor and punches in a security code to enter a vast space filled with mats and apparatus. Tweddle, 22, jogs round the floor and gradually sheds her layers, doing an increasingly difficult routine of stretches and pulls; she too is recovering from a foot injury.
The gym fills up as younger children arrive, most taking time off school to train as Tweddle did, from the age of seven. When the coaches turn up, the real work begins. The boys practise somersaults and twists on a trampoline, very young girls try out beam routines with the intimidatingly narrow wooden strip fixed to the floor and surrounded with padded mats.
Tweddle and her coach, Amanda Kirby, go into a shabbier side room where uneven bars are set up over a pit filled with foam pieces to prevent injury. The walls are peeling, the mats are tatty and the air-conditioning unit roars so loudly that it's hard to hear anything else.
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And then Tweddle launches into her routine and I'm seeing a human come as close to flying as our bodies will ever allow. But as soon as Tweddle turns back to work, her expression changes to one of total, blank concentration.
After performing each skill, she looks hungrily for feedback, getting terse instructions from Kirby. Today they're revisiting an old skill that Tweddle is thinking of putting back into her uneven bars routine: She later tells me she has never counted the total number of times she will repeat a skill like this in training, 'But it must be thousands. You just go over and over it. It gets tedious, but if you want to be champion that's what you've got to do.
Now the aspirations are rather higher.
Beijing 2008 Olympics: Final countdown for six British hopefuls
Tweddle is one of our brightest hopes for a medal this summer. I've had the Commonwealth title, the European title, the British title, the World title. I'd love to have an Olympic medal in the collection. At last year's World Championships, she lost her uneven bars title by two tenths of a point. She missed a connection, a release and catch leading from one bar to the other.
I used to put a routine together and do it well three times in training, and that would be the end of my bar session. Now has to be three routines with all handstands perfect, all dismounts landed with no steps. If all goes well, she aims to compete on all four apparatuses. It is assumed she will then retire, because she is already considered old for a gymnast. Tweddle isn't so sure.
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The sport is changing, she points out. The Olympic Committee raised the minimum age for gymnasts to 16 a while ago, and there is talk of it soon rising to As a result women are already starting to stay in the sport longer, with the emphasis slowly shifting from balletic grace to more muscular skills. She might carry on, perhaps cutting down to two apparatuses so that she doesn't need to put in so many hours.
When you've been doing it since you were seven, 20 hours plus a week, what do you do when you've got extra time on your hands? I'd find it hard to just quit. Even on my weeks off, I usually come in and coach the little ones. Tweddle had been there to see him win the men's synchro final.
They met through Team Visa, she says, and because the skill set is quite similar for both sports, she had been able to help when Tom had a problem with his twists in the air. I had been surprised at how mundane, how free of fuss and fanfare the competition was. The main pool was open to the public throughout, with a family splash session going on while Tom won the men's platform title on Sunday in a nail-biting final against the favourite, Peter Waterfield.
Some of the swimmers had stopped to watch the diving for a minute or two, but most were oblivious to the drama being played out in the adjacent pool.
On the balcony, the only people watching are other competitors, their families, and a handful of diving enthusiasts.
Tweddle laughs and says that's the norm. The audiences for national championships, Olympic trials and even European and world championships are often small, she says. It's only at the Olympics that you're sure the world is watching. Even though you're competing against exactly the same people, everyone wants to be Olympic champion. Canoeists have to travel where the white water is, and in the past year that has meant a month in Australia, two long trips to Brazil, countless trips to Europe and two stints in China, getting used to the Olympic course.
The night before I go to meet her in Nottingham, I call her mobile to confirm the time and disturb her dinner. She will be home for less than 48 hours before leaving for the British team's monthly training camp in Holland, but none the less the next morning she drives to the train station to pick me up, along with two key members of her support team: Pennie moved down from Scotland to do her degree so that she would be able to train here.
Canoeing is in her blood - her mother Maureen was a successful flat-water racer, and Fiona was in her mum's boat before she could even walk.
She doesn't do it for the fame, she laughs, or the money. There's very little of either. But it's something she's good at, something she wants to be the best at. There are penalties for hitting a pole, and if you miss a gate the point penalty means you have effectively eliminated yourself at this level of competition.
It is hard work, and canoeists frequently suffer from shoulder and back problems in later life. Pennie's mum has severe back problems, and although Pennie is just 25, her own is already starting to niggle in the same way. For now, the main challenge is the Saturday-morning paddlers who veer wildly over the white water areas, banging into Pennie as she steers round the gates. As she carries her boat back up, she passes a man from the GB team.
Top 10 in every race she has entered, she won a bronze at the World Cup in Prague, and secured Britain a single Olympic slot by coming seventh at the World Championships in Brazil. Now she has to fight for that place with Laura Blakeman, her roommate when they are away training. Their next three competitions in Holland and in Nottingham will decide it, but until then, both have to fill out all the forms for Beijing, and their friends and families have to wait and watch the prices slowly climb before booking plane tickets - although they've been advised to buy admission tickets for the events now, before they sell out.
Athletes don't get an allocation when they're selected: And then I'll be thinking about next season. A small army of people now back up the canoe team. There are weights coaches for the thrice-weekly gym sessions, a nutritionist, psychologists, video analysts.
Physiologists will take blood samples to test the levels of lactic acid, or put spring gauges on the paddles to test the power of each stroke. But what is exciting Pennie most is her boat. In cycling, it has become standard practice to create a bike for each athlete, tailored exactly to their bodies and technique.
Now the same is happening with canoeing in Britain - albeit in a far more modest way. The powerhouse of this innovation turns out to be a lock-up just outside Nottingham city centre, where the Olympic boat designer Stu Morris makes me swear not to reveal any details about the canoes before letting me in.
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