WHEN Scotland’s greatest-ever gymnast says the sport in this country is in a great place, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice.
Dan Purvis may have retired from elite gymnastics but he maintains a keen interest in the top-end of the sport and he was one of Team Scotland’s most vociferous backers during the recent Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
A raft of impressive performances by Purvis’ compatriots, topped-off by Shannon Archer’s historic bronze medal in the vault which was Scotland's first-ever individual women's Commonwealth Games artistic gymnastics continued the recent run of strong performances from Scotland’s gymnast at Commonwealth Games.
And while Purvis, who himself is a former Commonwealth champion as well as a world and Olympic medallist, was hugely impressed by the performances across the board, it is Archer’s medal he believes may have the most significant impact on the sport in the coming months.
“On both the men’s side and the women’s, they were so close to a team medal so it was great to see them perform so well,” he says.
And Shannon Archer coming away with an historic medal was incredible.
“On the men’s side, we’ve had some amazing results in the past decade and we’ve always had strong female gymnasts but to have a medal-winner now, it’s going to inspire the whole of Scottish gymnastics. It shows we can get medals on both sides and these young girls coming through can look up to Shannon.
“They won’t just be targeting competing with the best, they’ll be targeting medals having seen her do it and that’s a massive thing.”
The next major target for Scotland’s top gymnasts is the World Championships, which will take place in Purvis’ home city of Liverpool at the end of October.
Purvis is no stranger to World Championship success having won team silver on home soil in Glasgow in 2015 and he is optimistic that despite the challenge it is for Scots to break into the English-dominated GB team, several have a distinct possibility of making the cut for Liverpool.
“Frank Baines, if he wants to go for it, Hamish Carter, Pavel Karnejenko as well as Shannon really impressed me and so they all have a chance of getting in the Worlds team,” Purvis says.
“It says a lot about the quality of these Scottish gymnasts that they’re fighting for a place in the GB team because it’s just such a high standard.
“The tough part is getting in the team but the up side is if you make the team, you know you can really do well.”
Gymnastics has not had the best time of it recently, neither globally nor domestically.
Stories of abuse, bullying and mistreatment of gymnasts have become depressingly commonplace and the recently released Whyte review, which detailed the “systemic” physical and emotional abuse of young gymnasts in Britain was a devastating blow to the reputation of the sport.
It is not necessarily an environment Purvis recognises but he admits it’s been a hugely testing time for his sport.
“Some of the stuff that came out was really shocking and really upsetting,” he says.
“I had a very different experience to the stories we heard about.
“But the hard thing about this sport is that it’s about results and medals – it’s a lot of pressure on the athletes.
“Gymnastics is a critical sport and nothing is ever perfect but you know the coaches are good and who are helping you and then there’s others who are belittling their gymnasts.”
Purvis has a vested interest in the reputation of the sport as these days he runs his eponymous academy in Merseyside.
As a coach, Purvis has been forced to examine the way he treats his charges, particularly on the female side where the gymnasts are often especially young.
However, despite the raft of negativity that has engulfed the sport, he believes the tide has changed and things are beginning to go in the right direction now.
“When you’re working with youngsters, it’s so important to be a role model because how you speak to them could affect them for the rest of their lives,” he says.
“You need to have open lines of communication and have everybody on the same page that it’s not purely about results and medals, it’s also about well-being of the athletes.
“The athlete has to come first – the gymnast is the one in the firing line and so they need to be the priority.
“We need to look at the big picture and make sure everyone is treated equally and fairly.
“I just hope that now, in light of this coming out, we can make sure British gymnastics is a respectful place to be and for gymnasts to be proud to be on the GB team.”
The World Gymnastics Championships Liverpool 2022 will be one of the largest international sporting events ever to be held in the city. 550 gymnasts from 75 countries will compete at the M&S Bank Arena from 29 October to 6 November 2022. Tickets available at 2022worldgymnastics.com.