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Sporting hopes of teen gymnasts in limbo for moment

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Simon Flanney (centre ) with gymnasts Ryan Devine and Fraser McLeod

Simon Flanney (centre ) with gymnasts Ryan Devine and Fraser McLeod

Simon Flanney (centre ) with gymnasts Ryan Devine and Fraser McLeod

The lives and routines of almost 1,000 children - including the Gymnastics World Cup dreams of two teenagers - have been left in tatters due to the coronavirus pandemic.

There were tears all-round when Simon Flannery, head coach at Flight Gymnastics Academy, closed the doors of the Newtownabbey club, although hopefully not for the last time.

"It's all up in the air at the moment," said Simon.

"We are closed for at least two months and we'll be able to scrape by, but if it goes on for longer than that we just don't know what will happen."

Based in a dedicated warehouse on the Antrim Road in Mallusk since 2018, the academy trains youngsters in gymnastics, trampoline and DMT (double mini trampoline), ranging from recreational and squad classes to some of the top gymnasts in Ireland and Britain, and is one of the biggest clubs in Northern Ireland.

"There are around 900 children on our books and on a day to day basis there's probably 200 kids coming through our doors for classes and training.

"Having to close down and everywhere going into what's essentially a lockdown coupled with the whole isolation aspect will definitely have an effect on the kids, mentally and physically.

"It's not just the lack of training and classes but also not seeing your team-mates. Hopefully when all this is over the kids will want to get back into it and hopefully the parents will be able to afford that."

The club's temporary closure has also had a knock-on effect on two of its top gymnasts, who had been training hard for the European Championship in Sweden in May and the World Cup in Brescia - which was at the epicentre of the outbreak in Italy - due to have been held this coming weekend.

Former European DMT junior champion Ryan Devine (18), Ireland's top trampoline gymnast, was to compete in both.

By competing in the World Cup, it would have been the first time any Irish gymnast would have earned Olympic qualification points.

"I had planned to use these two competitions for the experience and really push hard for the 2024 Olympics because that's the ultimate aim. I want to go to the Olympics and get a medal.

"I played all sorts of sports but with trampolining, it's the adrenaline rush you get from it, there's no other sport in the world where you get such a rush, it's a feeling like you're flying.

"But this is definitely a worrying time for not just the club but for everyone and who knows when we will all be competing again."

The global pandemic was a double blow for Edinburgh teenager Fraser McLeod, who had moved to Belfast specifically to train with Simon at Flight, as he fought hard to regain his skills.

In less than 48 hours the 17-year-old, a four-time junior British DMT champion, lost his job at Carphone Warehouse and then heard that despite qualifying for the European Championships it had been postponed - leaving him no choice but to move back home.

"I had qualified with the senior team for the first time. That had been the end goal and I had achieved it but due to the outbreak I won't get to compete.

"It was all a bit of a shock but I'm looking ahead and just looking forward to what's next. It's out of my control but I won't let this stop me," declared the determined Scot.

Belfast Telegraph