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16-year-old Sophie McCoo will represent Ireland at the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo.

Abbey gymnast to take on the world

By Ed McGinley

Life has not always been easy for the gymnasts of Abbey Gymnastics Club. Since the club’s formation in 2000 it has been a nomadic existence for founder Alison McMullan and her young band of tumbling experts.

Shifted from premises in Newtownabbey to Carrickfergus and then Mallusk, the club’s actual future had even been called into question.

However, in 2010 the cross-community club planted firm roots in Belfast city centre. Now based at the Argyle Business Centre off North Howard Street, Abbey has a place to call home.

Gymnasts from across Greater Belfast and beyond are learning the skills of the floor, pommel horse and rings at the new facility.

And, they come in their droves. Starting as young as three, the gymnasts develop everything from flexibility, strength and self-confidence.


World map

Among them is Sophie McCoo. The 16-year-old has developed through the ranks at the club and from October 7-16, the Victoria College pupil will put Abbey’s name on the world map.

That’s because the Jordanstown teenager will represent Ireland at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships, which take place in Tokyo, Japan.

It’s a daunting first ever appearance on the global stage for McCoo where she will take on gymnasts from the super powers of China and Russia.

Coach Alison McMullan is traveling to Japan with her protégé. They leave on September 30 and Alison revealed that Sophie’s forthcoming participation at the highest level has created a real buzz at the gym.

“Without a doubt she is a real example to all the other gymnasts in the club,” said Alison. Our club is quite small so for her to be selected to compete for Ireland, outside of the National Centre (Salto), is an amazing achievement.”

McCoo’s rise to the top has been meteoric. As well as boasting a talent for the sport the 16-year-old is blessed with an surpassed work ethic.

The punishing regime includes over 30 hours of training per-week.

That dedication paid off in early May when McCoo showcased her skills at the National Gymnastics Centre (Salto) during the Irish Gymnastics Women’s National Finals.



being the youngest senior in the competition, 15 then, Sophie blasted her way to the top of the rankings with mature performances across four different pieces of apparatus.  Scores of 12.7 on the vault, 8.93 on the asymmetric bars, 10.5 on the balance beam and 11.97 on the floor gave her a total of 44.1, crowning her with the 2011 National All Round title.

Less than 24 hours later the Abbey star returned to win gold in the individual vault competition while earning three silver medals in the beam, asymmetric bars and floor routines.



The mature displays throughout that weekend, which demonstrated Sophie’s strength, power and fluency, cemented her spot on the Irish team for Tokyo.

In Japan Sophie will compete in the beam and floor.

The floor competition is a sequence of linked elements that simultaneously demonstrate strength, flexibility and balance. Somersaults, handstands and rotations are just some of the elements involved.

The balance beam is an exercise with even more technical demands. It involves leaping, jumping, hopping, turning and balancing on an apparatus with a width of 10cm, length of 5m and at a height of 125cm. It is not for the faint hearted.



Nevertheless the opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s elite is something McCoo and McMullan are eagerly awaiting.

“Sophie has been away with Northern Ireland and Ireland squads. She has competed at the UK School Games, the Northern Europeans and we went to Norway in March for an international but this is the biggest thing we will be involved in,” said Alison.

“I’m delighted because it’s very competitive. The Worlds are not something that we aimed for, it has all happened so fast. It will be the biggest thing that she has done in her life but we are really excited and she is very focussed on it.”

While the World Championships are the pinnacle for any gymnast, McMullan strongly believes that Tokyo is only the start of high-level competition to come for Sophie.


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