Two team golds for the nation’s young gymnasts were the highlights of a medal-rich day at the Commonwealth Youth Games in the Isle of Man as England athletes also topped the podium in athletics, swimming and road cycling to lie second in the table behind Australia.
England claimed its first gold when Abi Caig, Rebecca Tunney and Charlie Fellows pulled off a great win in the women’s gymnastics team competition relegating favourites Australia into third place.
And just an hour later Dominick Cunningham, Brinn Bevan and Jay Thompson added a second gold in the men’s team competition after a nail-biting tussle with Canada.
The women held their nerve superbly throughout the competition to finish with 159.750 points with Wales second on 156.000 and Australia third on 148.850.
All three girls hail from the north-west and both Tunney and Caig train at the same City of Liverpool club as Beth Tweddle, herself a former Commonwealth Youth gold medalist. They secured victory on the beam when all three produced assured performances, including a beautifully executed double spin from Tunney.
“It was quite hard going first as you have to set the standard,” said Fellows, aged 14 from Sandbach, a late replacement on the team for the injured Gabrielle Jupp. “I was a bit nervous beforehand but once I started I was fine.”
“We knew that a few people had messed up on the beam but you just have to concentrate on your own routine,” added Manchester-based Tunney. “I was really happy with the double-spin – it doesn’t always come off but I managed to pull it off today.”
“It’s great to win England’s first gold medal,” said Caig from Liverpool. “I really enjoy the beam but I was still nervous as I knew that I had to have a clean performance. Thankfully I managed to hold it together.”
Coach Clare Duffy was understandably delighted. “I’m over the moon for the three of them,” she said. “They were expected to do well and that means a lot of pressure.
“We’ve still got work to do so we need to keep our heads down before we can celebrate. They’ve got a long way to go before they reach the Olympic Games but it is a great experience for them to win a gold medal here.”
Tunney finished top of the individual standings with 54.650 while Caig was second with 53.300, so both go through to the overall individual competition tomorrow.
It was a similar tale for England’s men later in the afternoon when the teenage trio held off a late challenge from Canada in a competition that went right to the wire. England led by just 10-points with one exercise to go – but a great routine by Cunningham on the pommel helped see them home with 238.700 to Canada’s 229.150. Australia finished third.
Cunningham, from Birmingham, had a brilliant day, qualifying first for tomorrow’s individual all-around competition with a total of 82.850 as Thompson, from Paignton, finished second.
“We knew we could come quite high but we didn’t know we could win,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure at the end.
“I looked at the score before the pommel and thought, ‘I just have to do this.’ Pommel is not my favourite but I just knew I had to stay on.
“I’m very happy with the way I performed today, but I know I can’t get too happy yet because there’s a lot of competition to come.”
Men’s team coach Ryan Bradley was full of praise for his young squad. “They held their nerve really well which is what it’s all about in gymnastics,” he said. “It’s looking good for the next two days now.”
There was another surprise team gold for England’s women when Hannah Barnes’ superb individual victory in a wind-swept and sea-misty cycling time trial along the Douglas promenade helped launch England to the top of the team podium again.
Barnes beat Australia’s Jess Allen by 17 seconds to take the individual gold while Lucy Garner’s sixth place and Harriet Owen in eighth secured the team honours. Barnes enjoyed her victory over the fancied Australian, but it was a tough battle in the conditions.
“There was a tail wind going out which I don’t like,” said the national junior champion from Towcester. “There was one corner where the wind nearly took the wheels from under me and it took all my strength to keep the bike upright.
“After our training camp here I didn’t think I was going to do very well but this is my strongest event and I thought if I was going to win a gold it would be today.
“It’s great to win team gold too - we are all sharing a room here and were all together when we got the phone call to tell us we had won the team gold as well.”
England then added a team silver behind Australia in the men’s event thanks to Jon Dibben’s individual bronze, plus seventh and 12th place finishes for Sam Lowe and Matthew Holmes.
“I just tried to go flat out all the way but it’s hard to tell how well you’re going; you just know it hurts,” said Dibben, from Brockenhurst.
“It’s been a hard week’s training and I’m pleased to win a bronze medal. This is my strongest event and my best chance of a medal so I’m happy I’ve got one.
“It was a good team effort to get the silver. The Aussies are strong but we’ve got a great team spirit.”
In the pool, England won two golds, two silvers and a bronze including a wonderful one-two in the women’s 200m backstroke for Georgia-Mae Hohmann and Phoebe Lenderyou.
The pair, who are close friends and roommates, fought out a neck and neck battle in the final way ahead of their rivals after Hohmann had posted a huge personal best in qualifying this morning.
Matching each other stroke for stroke, the two touched virtually together at the final turn but Hohmann produced the stronger finish to claim gold in 2:07.73 to Lenderyou’s 2:08.05.
“We helped each other really,” said Hohmann afterwards. “We actually said to each before, ‘Let’s go for joint first.’”
Hohmann was disappointed to finish fifth in this event at the recent World Youth Games but the 17-year-old trains with Rebecca Adlington in Nottingham and some sage advice from the double Olympic champion helped her overcome her usual pre-race nerves.
“Becky just told me that I’ve worked so hard I need to just do what I do in training. She’s very supportive.
“I’m so happy to get two PBs today,” she added. “I’m shocked because I’ve just had a two week break with only five sessions in the water.
“My coach told me just to have fun, so I came not knowing what to expect. It’s made up for the world youths, although I would still have liked to do better there.”
Lenderyou, a 15-year-old from Newcastle, was delighted to get silver despite being so close to gold. “It hurt but I’m very pleased with a big PB and a silver medal,” she said. “We’re such good friends that it was hard when we were so close at the end.”
Matt Johnson claimed England’s first swimming gold an hour earlier, the Liversedge man taking three seconds from his PB to beat Australia’s Eugene Tee in the 400m individual medley.
Johnson, who touched home in 4:15.41 after leading throughout the race, said: “That’s not a bad start, is it? It was a good swim. I slowed towards the end because I’ve got more events to go, otherwise I could have gone down to 4:12.”
Sophie Smith got England off to a great start when she claimed a bronze medal in the first event of the session, the women’s 100m freestyle, behind Australian pair Ami Matsuo and Kotuku Ngawati.
“I knew they were going to be tough to beat but I’m chuffed to get a medal and a really big PB,” said the Leicester swimmer, who clocked 55.78.
Smith and Lenderyou picked up their second medals of the evening in the day’s penultimate event when they helped England to finish second in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay.
The quartet of Lenderyou, Laura Vertigans, Shauna Lee and Sophie Smith clocked 3:45.05 to take second behind Australia.
There was disappointment, though, for Rachael Kelly, who finished fourth in the women’s 50m butterfly, and for Adam Rowe, who was also just out of the medals in the men’s 200m freestyle.
Sprinter Sophie Papps was England’s star on the track, the European Youth Olympic champion adding Commonwealth Youth gold over 100m with a dominant display.
If it wasn’t for a marginal headwind Papps winning time of 11.53 would have been a huge personal best for the Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow athlete.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” said Papps, who lives in Sunningdale. “I didn’t come into this season thinking I’d even make the English Schools. I’ve done everything I could possibly do and I’m really proud.