The British all-round gymnastics champion talks somersaulting on the settee, Birmingham’s world class facilities and Olympic dreams
Being crowned British all-round champion in his first national senior competition was a big deal for plucky teenager Joe Fraser. He’d planned to break into the senior scene successfully after achieving big in the junior ranks, but not necessarily winning the title which he describes as ‘unbelievable’ making all the hard work worth it.
On the back of such a brilliant year, Joe’s now gunning for Commonwealth Games and World Championships selection with an eye firmly on the Tokyo Olympics, too. Training at Birmingham’s world class facility in Perry Barr he’s spurred on by the prospect of being involved in a home World Championships at Arena Birmingham next year.
As an energetic five-year-old, Joe liked nothing more than somersaulting on the settee. His mum – perhaps for the sake of the sofa – decided to channel his energy into gymnastics at the City of Birmingham club which Joe loved, but wasn’t exceptional. However, when a new coach joined the club in 2008 he saw something in Joe.
“The coach liked my work ethic and pushed me,” said Joe. “A year later I made the national team aged 11.” At this point training cranked up to 20 hours-a-week and while it could have been tough juggling school work and gymnastics, Joe’s school was incredibly supportive. “The school could see that it was a good opportunity. They helped by giving me homework in advance, so rather than playing catch up I was actually ahead.”
Now aged 18, Joe still trains at the City of Birmingham club with coach Lee Woolls. He trains full-time, six-hours-a-day concentrating on strength, conditioning and flexibility and has a nutritionist to keep him at his optimum weight. But what is it about the sport that he finds thrilling? “There are endless opportunities to perform. It’s such a high,” he explained. Joe also enjoys the friendly nature of the sport. Junior and senior national teams train together resulting in fantastic team spirit. Travelling is a big part of the sport and over the years Joe has spent a lot of time away from his parents who are ‘100 per cent supportive’ and fly to see him compete when they can.
With the World championships coming to Arena Birmingham in March and the city’s Commonwealth Games bid in the mix, it’s not a bad sporting period for Brum. Of the home World Championships Jane Allen, CEO of British Gymnastics, said: “We’re delighted to bring this world class gymnastics event to Birmingham – a city that has produced some of the most successful British gymnasts in history.” The city has a world class training facility in the Gymnastics and Martial Arts Centre (GMAC) in Perry Barr which is a dedicated dual sports centre that opened in 2008.”
Joe’s hero is Japan’s Kohei Uchimura who is widely regarded as the best gymnast of all time and by Joe a ‘legend’. Competing against him was interesting. Naturally Uchimura came out on top – as Joe says ‘he never comes second in anything!’ Perhaps Joe could be the one to knock his hero off the top spot. He’s certainly ambitious. He said: “I’d love some Olympic medals.” Joe’s aiming for both the Tokyo and Paris games. He’s also keen to recommend the sport to youngsters. “You need to enjoy and love sport to be successful and gymnastics is massively enjoyable.” He’s grateful to Max Whitlock and Louis Smith for raising the profile of men’s gymnastics. We reckon young gymnasts in years to come will be thanking their hero, Joe Fraser.
2015 European Youth Olympics, all-around champion
2017 British Championships, all-around champion
2017 European Championships all-around, fifth place