By Graham Thomas
Not many 16-year-old Welsh athletes have an eye on competing at next year’s Olympic Games – but then not many have had the kind of meteoric rise of Ruby Evans.
When 2023 began, the then 15-year-old Cardiff schoolgirl had not even begun her senior career in the sport, but by the start of this month she was first reserve for the five-member Great Britain squad that won an historic women’s team gold at the European Championships.
That squad – led by the brilliant 18-year-old Jessica Gadirova – now have the Paris Olympics in their sights.
So, too, does Evans although she admits it might prove a Games too soon.
“It would be amazing to go to the Olympics next year, but this GB team is so strong that for me the next Games after that is probably more realistic,” says the Ysgol Plasmawr pupil.
“I’ll have more experience by then.”
If her experiences of the past few months are anything to go by, though, she could yet make up the ground on the teammates ahead of her.
Evans was a silver medal winner on vault and took bronze on the floor in her Great Britain senior debut at the World Cup series in Germany in February.
She then won gold on vault at the British Championships in Liverpool and was fifth in the all-round competition won by Gadirova’s fellow European title winner, Alice Kinsella.
Evans admits it wasn’t that long ago that Kinsella was her wannabe hero, rather than potential GB Olympic teammate.
“When I was young, I was a really big fan of Alice Kinsella. I used buy her leotards and loved everything about her.
“I also liked watching the main Americans, like Simone Biles. I liked the showy ones. They were just nice to watch and inspiring for me.”
Not that Evans puts herself into the natural show-woman category. She admits her own game-face is more serious poker-type and says: “I’m more of a tumbling person than a dancing person.
“I’ll have a serious face on because I’m thinking about my vault or routine on the floor.”
Evans was four years old when she started gymnastics and says the variety within the sport, it’s energy and explosive bursts, appealed to her more than the steady rhythm of swimming.
“I did both, but I’m quite a hyper person and I liked trying new things which you get in gymnastics.”
The youngest of four children, she has thrived at Clwb Cymru Caerdydd, alongside fellow internationals Poppy Grace-Stickler, Mali Morgan and Sofia Micallef – a quartet who all finished inside the top 10 of the all-round competition at the British Championships.
Evans had already been earmarked for success after ending her junior career as British champion, but says the moment she believed she might be well-suited to the sport had come years before.
“I was about seven years old and I did well in a competition. Some of the other mums assumed I must have been older and they complained about me.
“I ended up having to prove my age, which was a bit strange. That’s when I first thought, maybe I can be quite good at this sport.”
Being blessed with talent at a young age has not always been an enjoyable experience for gymnasts in recent years, as numerous youngsters have testified.
GB international Becky Downie – and her sister Ellie – was one those who has spoken about abusive behaviour in the sport, directed at young gymnasts.
Evans appears mature and streetwise for someone a month past their 16th birthday. She insists she is well aware of the darker demands of high level competition, but is adamant her experiences so far have been healthy and positive.
“All that stuff that’s been going on hasn’t changed my mind about gymnastics. I wanted to do it and I still want to do it and I’ve always enjoyed it.
“There are obviously some days when you think, ‘I can’t do this anymore’, because it is demanding. But it’s normally when I’m tired or feeling stressed. There are people I can talk to and I don’t feel like that for long.
“I don’t miss many gym sessions. But the other day it was my birthday, so I left early to go for a meal. I miss some events with my friends, but I choose to. I enjoy gym, so it’s fine.
“People in the sport have been speaking about these things and I have seen things change myself. It’s a much friendlier sport now.”
More Success For Golden Girls Ruby Evans And Evie Flage-Donovan At Top Gym 2022 https://t.co/l2mZEwFKt5
— Dai Sport (@Dai_Sport_) December 1, 2022
Britain’s youngest squad member says there will be plenty of time for parties further down the line.
When she competed earlier this year in Germany, one of her rivals was the legendary Uzbekistani gymnast Oksana Chusovitina – still going strong with no less than eight Olympic Games behind her at the grand age of 47.
“She’s a bit of a legend – and a bit scary,” says Evans, 31 years her junior.
“She’s a really nice person, but when she’s in her moment, she’s in the moment.
“I’m not sure I’ll still be doing gym at 47.”