Joe Fraser leads GB gymnastics team to dominant European gold
Fate has maliciously lobbed one obstacle after another into the path of Joe Fraser this summer. A ruptured appendix. A broken right foot. Excruciating pain the accompaniment to both. It is just as well the leader of the British gymnastics pack has an abundant ability to pivot and twist before landing safely, separating himself from the debris scattered behind.
The 23-year-old from Birmingham leapt magnificently on Saturday in Munich. His colleagues followed his lead. The British quintet of Jake Jarman, James Hall, Giarnni Regini-Moran, Courtney Tulloch and Fraser flew towards men’s team gold with the greatest of ease.
This title has come the UK’s way once, a few weeks before the London 2012 Olympics. Pressing repeat bodes well for Paris 2024.
Turkey, the expected challengers, faded to bronze. Italy claimed silver but were a gulf adrift of the British points tally of 254.295. Fraser, despite a fracture he still has to manage, skipped gleefully and without fear.
“The main thing that’s kept me going is the team that stood with me,” he said. “When I doubted myself, they believed in me. And that’s what probably kept me going through those tough days and hard days.
“Stood here right now, as team European champions, makes all of those hard times worth it.”
True to form, he had to roll with another unanticipated punch, offering to sub in for the floor exercise when Tulloch took unwell overnight. “My face swelled up,” he said. “He looked like he’d had a boxing match,” Fraser said, grinning. That he took the smallest of penalties mattered little. His parallel bars was artistry in motion without a deviation in sight.
By midway, triumph felt inevitable. On a gargantuan cream sofa parked in the middle of the arena, the Britons could afford to kick back their heels and lounge while others stumbled.
Even when Regini-Moran slipped off the parallel bars, there was barely a twitch. Fraser backed him up with a score of 15.166. Then Hall ascended the high bar and scaled the heights. His colleagues watched and applauded. Their bonds run deep. “These guys are my brothers,” Hall said. “Like family.”
Jarman is just 20 and still on the rise. His vault was pitch-perfect. An exquisite landing off the high bar, at the very end, doubled as a signal for celebration. Four golds at the Commonwealths, another for him here.
“The whole experience feels like it’s been over in a flash,” he said. “Over the past few months, we’ve been training day in, day out. And to pull off what we did here is just incredible. The team score that we got gives us a lot of hope that we can do well on a world stage.”
Fraser – already the first British male to become all-around champion of Europe here – can make history on Sunday. Only Beth Tweddle, among Britons, has previously corralled twin continental golds. The individual apparatus finals can propel him above and beyond.
He has earned opportunities on the pommel horse and parallel bars with the highest scores in qualifying. An awesome foursome is within his grasp. His compatriots will surely strut to the podium as well. The current strength in depth, he underlines, is a potent driving force for all concerned.
“We are such a great team, because things that I might lack in, other people cover,” Fraser said. “Things that they might lack in, I cover. And that’s why we gel so well together on that gymnastics floor. Which is amazing to see. We really do pull together in those hard moments.”
This was the same lineup that collected gold in England’s colours at the Commonwealth Games and, despite the formality of official trials, will likely remain unchanged for the world championships in Liverpool two months from now. Max Whitlock, the event’s ambassador, has not officially ruled himself out from an active role. Surely that door is shut.
A year out in sporting terms equates to a chunk of a lifetime. The six-time Olympic medallist turns 30 in January and appears likely to spend 2024 nurturing future generations at the clubs he has established rather than pinging around a pommel near the banks of the Seine.
British Gymnastics will be wary of recalibrating a winning machine. With Russia banned from catching a ferry toward the Mersey, Britain expect to navigate towards the team podium again on home soil, with China and Japan their most probable foes.
Nothing will be left to fate. “We’re just all so competitive,” Tulloch said. “We’re close, we want the best of each other, and we want to beat each other as well. And that just makes us even better, to push each other.”
Europe cowered, global conquest at the world championships next. “We’re going to do incredibly there,” he said. “And I can’t wait for it.”