How to live for a day like an Olympic gymnast – by the former coach of Downie sisters

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Great Britain’s Olympians took five gold medals on what has been dubbed ‘Super Sunday’ yesterday – a record for team GB at an overseas games.

The gold rush was led by gymnast Max Whitlock, who won two gold medals on floor and pommel horse.

So apart from no little talent and years of dedication, how does an Olympian live day-by-day in the quest for glory?

We asked Claire Starkey – the former coach of Nottinghamshire’s Rebecca and Ellie Downie – the sisters part of a Great Britain team that finished fifth in the women’s team all round gymnastics event in Rio.

The all-round event is made up of four routines, including the vault, uneven bars, balance beam and the floor exercise.

The sisters were also a part of the team that won bronze at the 2015 world championships team all round event.

Claire is now the head coach at Robin Hood Gymnastics which she set up herself to get more children involved in the sport.

You have to have good quality food at all times

Claire said: “In preparation for any kind of event, you have to be ready for an early start.

“The day will start with breakfast which would normally be beans or eggs on toast, but only on healthy bread such as wholegrain.

“You have to have good quality food at all times.”

Image by Phil and Pam Gradwell (cc-by-sa-2.0)

After breakfast comes the first workout session of the day.

Claire said: “From 9am until 12pm, I would usually get the gymnasts to work on their body conditioning with a short snack break about half way through.

“You have to be so careful with snack bars but some are quite good for you.

“This will be monitored by a nutritionist who will check with you what you can and can’t have.”

They will work on their routines for three hours

A well-earned break then follows the first training session.

Claire said: “When the first session is completed, there will be a three hour break before the next session starts where the gymnasts will have lunch.

“Lunch is usually a high protein meal which also includes a lot of vegetables.

“After the three hour rest period is over, they will then work on their routines on different pieces of apparatus from 3pm until 6pm.”

Ellie Downie (image by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, cc-by-sa-4.0)

Claire warned about having to be careful about what else is taken when a gymnast goes home after training.

She said: “Sometimes, you may have to have vitamin tablets or supplements.

“You can have caffeine but this will also need to be checked by a nutritionist along with whatever tablets or supplements are taken.

“The gymnasts will only have one day off a week from this routine.”

You have to prepare as soon as you can so you feel comfortable

This routine can change around if required.

Claire said: “It can change depending on what competition you’re in and where.

“For example, if you have to do a routine early in the morning, the sessions of body conditioning and routine can switch around so you’re used to routine work in the morning.

“You have to try and prepare for these things as soon as you can so you feel more comfortable when you are competing at different times.”


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