By Carl Field
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Gemma Frizelle and Deeside Gymnastics Academy were among the big winners on a night of celebration for Welsh Gymnastics.
After a three-year hiatus, Welsh Gymnastics’ National Awards made their long-awaited return with a formal dinner at the Vale Resort, Hensol.
For first time since January 2020, it gave the governing body the opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of gymnasts and outstanding contributions of clubs and individuals to gymnastics in Wales – from January 2020 to December 2022.
They were also able to toast the passion, dedication and commitment of all those who have contributed to the sport and the wider community in so many different ways.
The evening saw Gemma Frizelle crowned Gymnast of the Year.
Frizelle (Llanelli Rhythmic Academy) wrote her name into Welsh Gymnastics folklore last summer when she won a stunning gold medal in the rhythmic gymnastics hoop final at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Competing at her second Commonwealths, it saw Frizelle make history by becoming the first gymnast to win hoop gold for Team Wales at the Games.
It was also only the second time a Welsh gymnast had won Commonwealth gold, following on from Frankie Jones’ ribbon gold at Glasgow 2014.
Her gold medal winning routine was played again in full with Nessun dorma reverberating around the Vale!
Deeside, meanwhile, were named Club of the Year and were presented with their award by Sport Wales CEO Brian Davies.
The club’s world was turned upside down at the start of the pandemic when they had to move out of their leisure centre home, which was repurposed as a Covid Nightingale hospital, at short notice.
Despite being left without a home and anxiously facing an uncertain future, the club still went above and beyond, putting on online training six days a week for all gymnasts, as well as other regular fun online events for gymnasts and their families.
In the meantime, Deeside’s coaches and directors pulled together to raise funds to secure a new home and, in June 2021, moved into their new facility – which has had a massive positive impact in the local community.
There were also plenty of other awards on an evening full of celebration, which began with a look back to reflect on the past three years, right from the beginning of Covid, before moving on to recognise all those gymnasts who have earned international recognition for Wales during that time, through the disciplines.
Other award winners on the night included women’s artistic gymnast Ruby Evans (Clwb Cymru Caerdydd), who won Emerging Talent of the Year, while Paul Edwards from Olympus Gymnastics Club in Wrexham won the Performance Coach of the Year award.
Harrison Harris, from Valleys Gymnastics Academy, collected Young Leader of the Year while the Unsung Hero award went to Kathy Jefferies.
Jefferies has always been an advocate for Welsh Schools and promoting gymnastics. Hundreds of school children have participated in gymnastics competitions over the past couple of decades because of Jefferies.
The Gym For All Award won by St Tydfils Gymnastics Club in Merthyr Tydfil while YMCA Barry’s Gareth Slocombe picked up Community Coach of the Year.
The evening also gave Welsh Gymnastics the opportunity to formally recognise some of those people who went above and beyond for the gymnastics community during the Covid-19 lockdowns – in the shape of a Lockdown Heroes award.
The panel were unable to pick a winner from the four nominees so it was decided that Lauren Jones (Ruthin & Denbigh), Leah Whiffin (Cardiff Central Youth Club), Sharon Evans (Carmarthenshire School of Gymnastics) and Neath Afan Gymnastics Club would all be joint winners of the prize!
There was also a chance to look back to last summer and recognise the 13 gymnasts, along with the coaches and support staff, who represented Team Wales at Birmingham 2022 with three of them, Lauryn Carpenter, Poppy-Grace Stickler and Jacob Edwards then getting up on stage to re-live some of those memories.
However the final round of warm applause of the evening belonged in special recognition of outgoing Welsh Gymnastics Board member, Dr Lisa Gannon.
There was a heartfelt video tribute played out on the big screen from Gannon’s long-time friend and former Welsh Gymnastics Chair, Helen Phillips, before a montage of images from Gannon’s life and in the sport before she then spoke to host Sam Lloyd about her life in gymnastics, as a broadcaster and as an academic.
Lockdown Heroes: Lauren Jones (Ruthin & Denbigh), Leah Whiffin (Cardiff Central), Sharon Evans (Carmarthenshire School of Gymnastics) and Neath Afan Gymnastics Club.
Gym For All: St Tydfils
Community Coach: Gareth Slocombe (YMCA Barry)
Young Leader: Harrison Harris (Valleys Gymnastics Academy)
Unsung Hero: Kathy Jefferies (Welsh Schools)
Emerging Talent: Ruby Evans (Clwb Cymru Caerdydd)
Performance Coach of the Year: Paul Edwards (Olympus Gymnastics Club)
Club of the Year: Deeside Gymnastics Academy
Gymnast of the Year: Gemma Frizelle (Llanelli Rhythmic Academy)
Special Recognition: Dr Lisa Gannon
Read more about “Gemma Frizelle”
Read more about “Ruby Evans”