Elaine Petch © Levon Biss
When Louis Smith, 23, won a bronze medal in Beijing he became the first Briton to win an individual medal in Olympic gymnastics in 100 years.
His mother Elaine Petch, 47, of Peterborough, raised him and his brother Leon alone after splitting up with his father when Louis was three.
Elaine: Louis always just wanted to run. He was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of seven and was put on Ritalin, but I didn’t like him taking it; he needed to use his energy in a structured environment.
His brother did gymnastics and Louis wanted to join in. They let him start early, at four. You could see he had potential. He may have been running around like a headless chicken, but he was very flexible.
At seven he was selected for training with a top coach at Huntingdon Gym, which meant going every day and at weekends. I would pick him up from school and he would change and eat tea in the car. We wouldn’t get home until late, but I didn’t see it as a sacrifice. I knew it was the best place for him. However, I did have to budget carefully for gym costs, kit and petrol, and my late mum Dilys helped me financially.
By the age of 11 Louis didn’t need Ritalin because he was so busy with gymnastics. He was focused and disciplined. At 14 he won gold in the Junior European Championships. Then, at 16, he went to the Commonwealth Games and won gold. At 17, he left school and became a full-time gymnast.
When he was selected to go to Beijing it was amazing. My mum and her sister paid for me to go. I wish I didn’t have to watch him compete, but when he won his bronze medal I cried. I was so proud. To know that all those years had paid off with a medal left me feeling numb.
Louis lives nearby and I do his washing and most of his cooking for him as he is busy training. The pressure is huge, but all I want is for him to enjoy this summer. I know he is capable of winning gold, but anything can happen on the day.
Extracted from the full article, including interviews with the families of Jody Cundy and Alison Williamson, published in the August 2012 issue of Saga Magazine. Subscribe today for more world-class writing delivered to your doorstep every month.
Photograph of Louis Smith © Press Association.