TAKING risks comes as second nature to Louis Smith, a sportsman who aligns natural athleticism with brute strength to perform gravity defying routines in pursuit of glory, but the London 2012 poster boy is willing to gamble on four years’ worth of gruelling preparation to complete his medal collection this summer.
At the last Olympic Games in Beijing a little-known 19-year-old from Peterborough shot to national prominence by becoming the first Briton to win a medal in an individual gymnastics event for 100 years.
The bronze Smith pouched four years ago still ranks as his finest achievement but the Team GB skipper is prepared to push the boundaries in order to go at least one better in front of his home crowd and cement his legacy.
After a training accident last week, which saw him fracture his finger and threaten his very participation at the Games, Smith may have to overcome the pain barrier in his attempts to perfect a rarely seen triple Russian manoeuvre, which involves three rotations of the body on one handle of the pommel horse.
“I’ve not been doing them clean in training,” he confessed to City A.M. “But I need to push myself if I’m going to compete with the best athletes. Gold is absolutely my aim and I’ve got to take some risks if I’m going to get there.
“It’s a move that’s always been there, but few people are prepared to take that risk, particularly in such a big competition with so many people watching you.
“I first learnt this skill when I was 12 – there’s no point having it in the locker and never using it. I want to produce the best routine I can and if I’m going to do that the triple Russian has to be there.”
At first glance, gymnastics and Smith appear to be an odd fit. With the flawless physique, handsome looks and a body decorated with tattoos, Smith could easily be mistaken for a footballer or pop star.
In reality, however, gymnastics will always be Smith’s first love, and he admits he has no idea whether he’ll be capable of walking away from the sport and pursuing other interests beyond the summer.
“It’s always been gymnastics for me,” he said. “I was always hyper-active as a kid and it just seemed to fit my personality. I think I was four when I first went to a gym club and just fell in love with it straight away. I can still remember throwing myself around on the floor and thinking: ‘Yeah, this is for me’.
“It’s hard to imagine my life without gymnastics and I’ve got a lot to think about after the Games. Who knows whether the team will still need me? Who knows whether it will be easy for me to walk away from it all?”
The decision might be made easier were he to perform to his potential and bow out on a high. To that end Smith feels he and the rest of his team-mates are at an advantage, having performed with distinction in the test event at the 02 earlier this year, where Team GB booked their place at the Olympics.
He said: “It was really good fun but we were all a bit nervous when we first turned up. We all really enjoyed it and it was really uplifting to see all of those Team GB flags being waved.
“When we found out we hadn’t managed to qualify in Tokyo, we [then] discovered we would compete again at the 02. We thought: ‘Hang on, this can be positive, we are going to an arena to compete and go through similar things at Olympics’.
“As a gymnast it’s vital to feel relaxed and more at home. You’ve got to feel comfortable in your surroundings so there are no excuses on that front now.”
Louis Smith is a member of the BMW London 2012 Performance Team and was speaking from the set of the BMW Presents films. To view the films visit http://www.youtube.com/bmwuk/bmwpresents