Fresh off the back of a history-making title, British gymnast Georgia-Mae Fenton on getting into the zone listening to hip-hop or rap music and what it takes to win gold
Georgia-Mae Fenton is an artistic gymnast who won gold in the uneven bars event at the Commonwealth Games 2022 and made history by defending the title she won four years ago in Australia. Georgia’s stunning performances also contributed to England winning team gold. The 21-year-old from Gravesend in Kent tells us how she almost cried herself away from the sport she loves, why teamwork is so important and the uplifting music that gets her into the zone.
Glorious: Have you always been into gymnastics? And when did you begin?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: As a young child I was always running around doing cartwheels and somersaults everywhere. I watched the 2008 Olympics on TV and decided I wanted to be a gymnast. Aged 5, my mum took me to a gym, but I cried and didn’t want to do it. I was a really shy child and I didn’t want to leave my mum, who thought “Oh God, it’s clearly not for her.” Aged 6, I picked up a leaflet at school about joining a gymnastics session and took it straight home to my mum as I really wanted to go. Mum said, “If you cry, then we’re not going to take you again.” So, I tried really hard not to cry and just had the best session ever. I fell in love with gymnastics and everything propelled from there.
Glorious: Congratulations on retaining your commonwealth title. What does this history-making moment and competing at the Commonwealth Games mean to you?
Georgia-Mae Fenton:It means everything to me. I really wanted to go out there and do the best job and retain my title, so I feel extremely proud of myself. I didn’t know that I’d made history, but that just makes winning the title a bit sweeter.
Glorious: Do you get nervous? And how do you deal with emotion?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: Yes, I definitely get nervous. I tend to get more nervous two weeks before the competition because of anticipation building up. When I’m there, my nerves settle in. I like to talk to myself, visualise, and I put my music on. I try to stay in my own zone and that seems to help.
Glorious: Do you get nervous and what is your routine for getting in the zone before a performance?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: Yes, I definitely get nervous. I tend to get more nervous two weeks before the competition because of anticipation building up. When I’m there, my nerves settle in. Before a performance, I put my headphones on and listen to hip hop or rap music, always something uplifting. When I know my turn is approaching, I take my headphones off and begin to visualise my routines. I start talking to myself, giving myself small corrections here, there and everywhere, and then I’m ready to go!
Glorious: Artistic gymnastics includes four disciplines, vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. We’re guessing that uneven bars is your favourite? Do you have to spend equal time practising each? How often do you train and what disciplines do you find most challenging and why?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: I train five to six days a week (approximately 30-40 hours) depending on where we are in the competition season. Bars come a little more naturally to me, although sometimes it’s not always my favourite because as I’m better at bars, I put more pressure on myself to do well. I also love the beam, but training and competing on the beam is always quite nerve wracking. I find the floor and vault to be the hardest, as I’m not naturally a very powerful athlete. I’ve had to work really hard at these two disciplines, but I just try to use a little more elegance and artistry to get my scores up.
Glorious: You obviously compete as an individual but also contribute to team England. So how important is your relationship with fellow teammates and describe the camaraderie?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: It’s really important to have a good team. We’ve known each other for so long, but we haven’t always competed as a team together. We learn what works for each person. If something goes wrong, some people like to take themselves away, some people cry, some people just want a hug. But we’ve all learned that about each other, which I think really helped us going into the Commonwealth Games because we knew each other so well. It helped that we had a really good competition as that got the momentum going and it was carried all the way through. Outside of the arena, we’re always there to support each other as much as possible through whatever life throws at us.
Glorious: Which gymnasts do you look up to and why?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: There’s so many gymnasts to admire for different reasons, but my favourite is American Nastia Liukin who won the 2008 Olympics. Nastia is so elegant and graceful and everything she does looks perfect. Obviously, GB’s Beth Tweddle did an amazing job and she has inspired me to do better on bars.
Glorious: You’re based at the same club as Max Whitlock. Have you picked up any tips from him or has he offered you any advice?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: Yes, definitely. Max has given me plenty of advice in various situations. By just watching him train before an Olympics and seeing how he deals with things really helps me to get through my sessions. I remember when I was having a really tough time with my health including fatigue. He had something very similar and he gave me an insight into how he dealt with it and this helped me to manage and push through with my own problems. He inspires people as soon as he walks into the gym, and I still get a bit nervous in his company because he is just that good!
Glorious: Tell us about the support you receive and the impact investment has on helping you to achieve your goals.
Georgia-Mae Fenton: We get immense support from The National Lottery and this relieves a great deal of pressure and stress and allows us to be full-time gymnasts. I can’t thank them enough for their support, which often goes unnoticed, but athletes are so appreciative of the funding The National Lottery provides, as it enables us to train in the best facilities to help us become the greates athletes we can be.
Glorious: Do you play or watch any other sports?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: No, it’s just full-time gymnastics. To be fair, with the amount of training, we don’t really have time for anything else. If you do have spare time, you want to make sure you’re recovering to get the best out of your sessions.
Glorious: If you were to compete in another sport, regardless of your ability, what would you choose and why?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: I’d probably do the heptathlon. It’s something not too disimilar to gymnastics, as there are different disciplines that you have to be good at, and I would find it interesting.
Glorious: What are your top three items in your kit bag that you can’t survive without?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: My hand guards would be number one because I could definitely not do bars without them and chalk is also super essential. And my spin sock, which is basically a little sock that covers half of your foot and it helps you to spin a little better on the floor and on the beam.
Glorious: Where do you keep all your trophies and medals? Do you display them?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: When I lived at home my medals and trophies were on display in a big cabinet. I recently moved out and they have been packed away, but now I have won a few new ones this year, I might need to find somewhere to showcase them!
Glorious: You’re inspiring the next generation of gymnasts, but what would you say to encourage a group of young girls to inspire them to compete at the Olympics and Commonwealth Games?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: Keep pushing through, there’s going to be hard times and there’s going to be good times, but take things one step at a time. Small building blocks will lead to success. One of my favourite quotes is, “Good things take time.” I’ve had to work really hard over a long period of time to get to where I am now, not everything happens overnight.
Glorious: If you were to go to dinner with four influential women, who would you choose and why?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: That is a really good question. I met Kelly Holmes recently, just briefly in a lift, and she’ll have many good stories to tell. Katarina Johnson Thompson – I have the same agent, but have never met her. Nastia Liukin because she is the gymnast who has inspired me most. Finally, Beth Tweddle, as I never had an opportunity to train with her and she’s probably also got some great stories to tell.
Glorious: And then last one, what’s next?
Georgia-Mae Fenton: I’m off to the European Championships* and hopefully I can carry the momentum through from the Commonwealth Games and have a successful competition. I’m just really excited to be selected, so anything is a bonus.
* Georgia won a silver team medal, as well as a sixth-place finish in the uneven bars final at the European Championships in Munich.