RHYTHMIC GYMNASTICS: Laura Halford retains British Championship title

Wilts and Gloucestershire Standard: Laura Halford training at Esprit Gymnastics in Swindon Laura Halford training at Esprit Gymnastics in Swindon

LAURA HALFORD would love the Commonwealth Games to be starting tomorrow.

Halford retained her British Rhythmic Championship title at Fenton Manor, Stoke over the weekend, a week after also successfully lifting the Welsh Championship for the second consecutive season in Cardiff.

Coming hot on the heels of a victory at an international competition in Romania against 14 other nations, 18-year-old Laura, from Cricklade, could hardly be in better form.

And she can’t wait for the summer showcase event in Glasgow to come around.

In both recent victories she was pushed all the way by Francesca 'Frankie' Jones, a former British and Welsh champion, London Olympian, and silver medallist in the Delhi Commonwealth Games of 2010.

With two such strong athletes on the team, is it any wonder there is great confidence in the Wales camp.

“I think Wales have a really good chance of winning a team medal in Glasgow,” said Laura, who expects to have her Commonwealth Games place confirmed shortly.

“I feel I still have some improvement to come but if the Games started tomorrow I would be ready.

“I did not know that Frankie was leading going into the final (ribbon) event, I was just trying to do my best. But I knew I must have a good chance of winning because my ribbon went so well.

“I was delighted that I could be so consistent across all the disciplines.”

In front a sell-out crowd, Laura scored an aggregate of 61.465 in the ball, ribbon, hoop and clubs to take the gold.

Welsh team-mate Jones scored 59.448 to take silver.

Jones led by just 0.6 of a point going into the final ribbon discipline of the competition, but she made a crucial error, unluckily getting a knot in her six-metre ribbon, which handed the title to her great friend and rival.

There was no such fortune involved in the senior individual apparatus finals 24 hours later when Laura collected three of the four events, with another enchanting set of routines. She finished runner-up to Jones in the clubs.

“I knew how difficult the competition was going to be,” said Laura. “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself. But I’m really excited about the Commonwealth Games in the summer.”

Jo Coombs, Head of Performance and Excellence at Welsh Gymnastics, is positive about the Welsh team’s strengths. She said: “The British Rhythmic Championships were excellent for Wales, with our placing of first and second. Laura was solid throughout the competition, and Frankie Jones did exceptionally well considering how hard it’s been for her to recover from injury.”

Halford qualifies for Wales because of her father David, who is from Mancot in Flintshire.

Nikara Jenkins did her chance of making the three-strong Wales team for Glasgow no harm by also making the finals of the British Championships. But the onus will be on Halford and Jones.

“All three team members will do four routines in Glasgow,” said Halford, “but we get the chance to drop the two worst routines out of 12 as only 10 count towards the points.”

Laura’a coach Deb Hows, who with her husband runs Esprit Gymnastics in Penhill, Swindon where Laura trains, thinks the Commonwealth Games could just be the start of her star pupil's  career on the international stage.

“Since the first day Laura started training with me at the age of six she has always wanted it and has worked incredibly hard. She has a lovely attitude,” said Hows. “Laura is still very young in this sport and we were saying just the other day that she will keep on improving until the Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2018.”

The British Championships was also a personal triumph for Hows. In addition to Laura, Esprit had three other medallists at the British Championships – Steph Sherlock (17), Tyler Brummit (15) and Abi-Jae Booth in the U11s.

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