Olympic athlete Kristian Thomas takes up new coaching role in Shropshire
As he walks into work a young boy turns to him, points to a framed poster on the wall and asks ‘is that you’?
Kristian Thomas smiles and says: “Yes – and maybe one day it will be you.”
The poster shows the GB squad for the 2016 Rio Olympics, which took fourth place. Kristian was also part of the bronze winning UK squad in the 2012 London Olympics.
Now retired from competitive gymnastics, the 29-year-old has a new challenge as the head of recreational gymnastics at Park Wrekin Gymnastics Centre in Wellington.
His role involves working the children and young people who are not in the elite section at the centre, but still enjoying their sport and improving their skills.
Kristian, who previously trained at Earls Gymnastics Club in Halesowen and lives near Cannock, said he is enjoying his new role out of competitive sport. He also has an important role in identifying very young talent that could one day replicate his own success story.
He said: “Gymnastics is a wonderful all round exercise and is good for anyone who may then decide to go into another sport.”
The enthusiastic gymnastics at Park Wrekin are as young as four and take Kristian back to his own childhood growing up in Wednesfield, Wolverhampton.
“I started gymnastics when I was five, following my older brother,” he said.
“I was lucky that I found something that I was good at.”
So good was he that he won the British all-around title in 2008 and went on to win the team bronze in the 2012 London Olympics, a year that also saw him win a team gold and individual gold in the European championships for floor.
Although he excelled at floor and was the first UK gymnast to win a medal for vault in the world championships Kristian says the high bar was his favourite discipline.
“The rings were my least favourite. I am taller than many gymnastics and longer arms aren’t suited to rings.”
He said his decision to retire came soon after Rio, adding: “Training for another four years for the next Olympics would have been so tough and I decided it was time for me to do something else.”
He now splits his time between working at Park Wrekin and studying at Wolverhampton University.
“I live in Cannock and study strength and conditioning - similar to sports science - at the Walsall campus,” he said.
“I am enjoying being back home. I did such a lot of travelling as an elite gymnast.
“I was a bit nervous about going back to education as a mature student, but it is great. In the past I just did what coaches told me to do in training. Now I can appreciate why I was doing it.”
As athletes prepare to fly to Australia’s Gold Coast to take part in the 2018 Commonweath Games he said he does not miss the travelling but does miss being part of the team.
He said: “I went to Liverpool to watch the British Championships last week. It was really good to catch up with the lads but I really did not miss the competition. I suppose that shows that I made the right decision to retire when I did.
“The lads looked really good and I am hoping they will do well in the Commonwealth Games.”
The championships gave Kristian the chance to try out another new skill, that of commentating.
“I was commentating for British Gymnastics and they had me on line commentating.”
As well as keeping an eye on his former team mates Kristian will also be keeping his fingers crossed for Park Wrekin’s elite gymnastic, Alice Kinsella who will be part of the England team after taking the all round silver medal in the 2017 British Championships.
“She will be going along with her coach Brett Ince from the centre,” he said.
“Brett and I trained together in the past and it is great to be back working with him.”
“This is a great gymnastics centre. It has a wonderful history and I am proud to be part of the team.”