Is gold-medal-winning Joe Fraser the nicest man in gymnastics? Yes probably, but make no mistake, he’s also tough as old boots. We caught up with him to talk about his incredible year
Softly spoken and thoroughly lovely, Joe Fraser’s demeanour hides a steely determination that saw him come back from a ruptured appendix just five weeks before the Commonwealth Games and a fractured foot a fortnight before the Games to win three gold medals. It’s been a hell of a year. Joe also won two golds at the European Championships in Munich in the all-round competition and parallel bars and there’s still the World Champs to come later this month.
The last time we caught up with Joe in 2017 he was featured in our Young, Gifted and Brummie series having just won his first senior title when we referred to him as a ‘plucky teenager’. He was modest about his ambition and grateful to Max Whitlock and Louis Smith for inspiring him.
Now older and wiser and a household name himself, he’s the one flying the flag for the sport and showing young kids what’s possible. There’ll be children all over the land emulating Joe somersaulting over the sofa just like he used to do. A word to the wise – Joe’s mum swiftly enrolled him in the local City of Birmingham club possibly for the sake of the settee, so if your child is a bundle of back-flipping energy, you never know how it might turn out.
The Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was still a dream when we talked to Joe five years ago with the bidding process in full swing. This year, we all got to experience the full force of the city’s spirit on display for that magical summer which even as a mere spectator was a joy, but to compete in a home Games was something special for Joe. He describes it as a ‘rollercoaster of emotions.’
He says: “There were so many obstacles that could have prevented me from even competing like a ruptured appendix and a fractured foot, but it was a home Games and I knew how much I wanted compete. Walking away with three gold medals made me so proud. I might have wanted to achieve more but given the circumstances and the things I overcame, I outdid myself.”
He adds: “The Games have done wonders for the city and it’s going to continue as we try to show the amazing legacy of what sport and people coming together can do. We’ve such an amazing community here. That was one of the reasons I was so desperate to be part of it. I was so ecstatic to be out there with friends, family, team-mates, teachers coming to watch and support not just me, but the rest of the team and all the other nations.”
Team work as well as individual performance seems key to success in gymnastics and there’s no tighter knit bunch than the England boys. Joe partly credits them with helping to pull him through the injuries. He says: “Our team spirit is unmatched. We’ve trained together for so many years that I class them all as my brothers. To be out there on such a huge stage doing it for each other, there’s no feeling like it.”
He adds: “I love this sport so much. The people that believed in me most with my injuries prior to the Games were my team-mates and it said a lot about the people I was associating with and how much belief they have in me. I don’t think I’d have been back being the gymnast I was at the Games without them.”
Speaking of training, it’s just six weeks before the World Championships when we spoke, so training is intense. Joe says: “We’re working towards world championships so we’re getting ready for training camps and training competitions to get us prepared for it. We do two sessions a day – a few hours in the first session then ticking over in a second session. When one of us is struggling we’ve got each to get us through. We’ve got team targets and individual targets that I hope we can all achieve.”
A lot of time away competing and training means that when Joe’s at home he’s relaxing with friends and family. “Because I’m away a lot I like to spend time with loved ones when I can maybe bowling, playing pool or watching a film and just enjoying the company I’m with. I love that and I always will.”
Joe’s ambitions go beyond medals. “I aim high for things outside of the gym too. One thing I’m really passionate about is increasing participation in gymnastics and I’m working on how I can make a difference to the sport.”
Watch this space. For now, we wish Joe and the rest of the team all the luck at the World Championships in Liverpool.