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Sports Personality of the Year contender Max Whitlock opens Kaleidoscope Gymnastics Centre

By Claire Cromie

A gymnastics club that lost its home when the Robinson Centre shut down suddenly has found a new one - and a Sports Personality of the Year contender popped in to celebrate.

Max Whitlock, the first man to win a World Gymnastics title, visited Kaleidoscope Gymnastics Centre on Friday.

The 22-year-old denied his teammate Louis Smith by 0.01 points to become the first man to win a gold for Great Britain. He's now up against controversial Tyson Fury, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford for the 2015 SPOTY title.

He cut the ribbon to officially launch Kaleidoscope's new venue in Carryduff, posing for selfies with young gymnasts.

But despite the centre only having opened ten weeks ago, most of the classes are fully booked.

Owner Dawn Dornan had been running her gymnastics club for 25 years, coaching children from east and south Belfast at the Robinson Centre, Lough Moss Leisure Centre and Belvoir Activity Centre.

But when the council shake-up took place and the Robinson Centre was suddenly closed down over an asbestos report, the club and its five coaches were left without a home.

"We would have been split between two councils, so we decided we wanted to keep the club together and give more opportunity to kids to get involved in gymnastics," said Ms Dornan.

"There had been a three-year waiting list at the Robinson Centre because we only had so many hours available to us.

"We had 300 members and we now have over 500."

She was overwhelmed by the demand, news spreading by word of mouth and on social media. But she now caters for a wider clientele, coaching children from as young as one-and-a-half - and she has also launched a hugely successful class for adults.

"People had been asking us for years if we did adult gymnastics," said Ms Dornan, "We have bodybuilders, footballers, polercise girls - people who want to do something a bit different and are into their fitness and want an alternative way to train so they're not constantly in the gym pumping iron.

"Gymnastics requires endurance, strength, flexibility and body awareness - more than most sports - because every piece of apparatus requires something different."

Grassroots clubs like Kaleidoscope are where future stars like Max Whitlock start out

"He was a regular guy done good," said Ms Dornan, "A London boy who spent years in the gym honing his skills to get where he is now.

"There is a certain body type that lends itself to gymnastics, but it's the training that really makes it happen.

"And it's no longer just the Russians and the Eastern European countries who have got the podium; the British guys are really up there now."

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