Cricklade gymnast dominates British Championship in Stoke
LAURA HALFORD, the rhythmic gymnast from Cricklade, has been crowned British Champion just a week after lifting the Welsh title.
Halford, 17, put together a scintillating routine in the first three disciplines (hoop, ball and clubs) at the Fenton Manor Sports Complex in Stoke on Saturday and had such a commanding lead that she could afford a below-par score in the final ribbon phase.
Her total score of 55.599 was still too strong for her good friend and Esprit (Swindon) Club-mate Stephani Sherlock, the runner-up on 54.115.
It was Halford's second attempt at the British Senior title - she was second last year to Olympian Frankie Jones (absent this year after a hip operation) - having won British Championships at every previous age group and junior category. Halford, who is studying A-Levels in biology, maths and PE at New College in Swindon, is the only rhythmic gymnast on the Olympic Ambitions Programme and she now plans to focus on the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow next summer when she will represent Wales.
"I have had good wins abroad before, in Hungary in 2012 and in Canada earlier this year against members of their national teams, but this is the biggest win of my career," said Laura.
"I went into the competition full of confidence after my Welsh win and each of my routines got better throughout.
"I had a personal best in the hoop (14.950) and even though I had a bit of disaster in the ribbon, I pulled myself together towards the end.
"At the moment, the decision is not to send any British rhythmic gymnast to the world championships later in the year so from now on I am preparing for the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and I hope to be able to defend my British and Welsh titles along the way."
Halford seemed genuinely pleased when her friend Sherlock almost swept the board in the individual apparatus titles in Stoke on Sunday, pushing the Cricklade girl back into the silver medal position in three of the four disciplines (ball, club and ribbon).
Had Laura been able to replicate her Saturday scores, she would have won three individual apparatus titles as well.
"The all-around title was the one I was really after and I found it difficult to get my head back the following day," said Laura.
"I had a personal best in the hoop on Saturday but I let it touch the floor on Sunday. It was disappointing but I am not going to let it overshadow my victory.
"It was great to share the winning with Steph and we were both very happy for each other.
"Steph is in Russia a lot of the time because that's where her mum is from, but when we train and compete together we definitely bring out the best in each other."
Laura began as an artistic gymnast from the age of five but was advised to switch to rhythmic gymnastics due to a lack of strength.
"I loved it from the very first time I tried it," she said. Now at the top of her sport, she has been earmarked as an early potential hope for Rio in 2016, and was taken by Team GB to the London Olympics to sample the unique atmosphere.
"That really motivated me to work harder and I am now fully focused on the Commonwealth Games," she said.
A third Esprit gymnast, Tyler Brummit, lifted the British Junior title in Stoke. She also only spends time at the club ahead of big competitions as her family has moved to Spain.
Laura receives support from Wiltshire Council 'Funding Future Olympians'.