LAURA HALFORD, the reigning Welsh and British rhythmic gymnastics champion, took the first major step towards retaining both titles when winning her national championship at the Sport Wales National Centre in Cardiff on Saturday.

She now heads to the Fenton Manor Leisure Centre in Stoke-on-Trent this weekend in an attempt to complete the double-double.

Halford, 19, from Cricklade, has been in the form of her life recently finishing 27th in an Olympic-strength competition for the Lisbon World Cup before returning from Romania as the winner of another international event, the Ritmica Trophy, which was contested by 15 nations.

She had to be at her best to hold off former Olympian Francesca Jones who missed last year’s championship through injury.

Halford put together a superb string of routines: hoop 15.950, ball 16.300, clubs 15.300 and ribbon 15.450 yet she only edged Jones off the gold medal spot by 63.00 to 62.10.

Jones gained some measure of compensation by winning three of the four individual events in the high-scoring senior apparatus finals the following day when Halford gained top marks only in the ball.

Jones’s form means that Wales will have two top quality gymnasts at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow later this year. The problem is to find a third for the team event.

Ex-Cirencester College student Jade Faulkner finished seventh in the open competition at Cardiff but well adrift of both Halford and Jones.

Laura said: “The weekend went really well apart from my clubs routine on Sunday when I made a couple of big mistakes.

“Francesca pushed me all the way for the Welsh title and the competition was of a very high standard. I was delighted with my consistency.

“Now I hope I can do the double again in this weekend’s British championship.”