Leeds Gymnastics Club history stretches back to 1971 when it was known as the Leeds Athletic Institute. The ‘L.A.I.’, as it was affectionately known, was located on Jack Lane, a short distance from Leeds city centre.
Dick Gradley was the Head Coach back in those early days. Ex-army gymnast, Dick was a true legend within British Gymnastics coming second in the British Championships several times and would have won had it not been for the fact that he was competing at the same time as Nik Stuart, nine times British Champion. Dick competed for Great Britain several times most notably in the 1960 Rome Olympics.
Dick coached several British Champions at the L.A.I. In 1977, Dick and the L.A.I. produced All-Around British Champion – Eddie Arnold. Eddie was originally from Moston in Manchester and had moved to Leeds to attend Carnegie College from 1969-1973. He competed for GB at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Sadly, Eddie died in a climbing accident in 2000.
Showing their strength in depth as a Men’s Artistic Gymnastics club, Leeds won the Men’s British Team Championship 3 times in the decade in 1971, ’72 and most notably in ’77 with Eddie Arnold, Stan Wild, Morgan Smith, John White and Jim Brogan. Jim Brogan competed with only one leg, a remarkable feat, even managing to vault after hopping down the vault run. After winning the solid silver, hip-high trophy in 1977, the trophy was polished and the cabinet was not locked back up and unfortunately, one of the most famous trophies in gymnastics was stolen.
Rounding the decade out, a young Dave Marshall competed for GB at Champions All. This was an international competition which took place at the Royal Albert Hall.
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From front: Penny ???, Janet ??? 3rd back. The boys/men in order at the back are: Dave Marshall, Morgan Smith, John White, Stephen Hill,Tony Harrison, John Childs and Dick Gradley circa 1969
With the retirement, from coaching, of Dick Gradley, Mike Talbot, or Mr T, as he was affectionately known by all the gymnasts took over coaching the men and boys during this period.
On the women’s side, a young gymnast called Kathy Williams was selected to represent GB at the Los Angeles Olympics. Kathy finished a credible 25th All-Around. Kathy would go on to coach and choreograph at Leeds Gymnastics.
During this period, Marjorie Carter, who had represented GB at no less than two Olympic Games herself in Helsinki 1952 and Rome in 1960 was the head coach for Women’s Artistic Gymnastics.
With the retirement, from coaching, of Dick Gradley, Mike Talbot, or Mr T, as he was affectionately known by all the gymnasts, took over coaching the men and boys during this period.
In 1986, Scott Mackie, who was coached by Mike Talbot, won a spot on the Scottish team for the Commonwealth Games.
Leeds Athletic Institute had run its course. It was time to move things along. The building was closed and Leeds Gymnastics Club was given a temporary facility around 1988. This was in West Leeds High School (now Dixon’s Unity Academy). This was not an ideal environment as space was shared with the school and equipment had to be set up and taken down each evening, except for a raised pit with bars.
With the involvement of Leeds City Council’s Leisure Services dept., Mike Talbot added Development Officer to his title. This was something he took very seriously and set about building a team and facility worthy of the city.
Mike helped to broker a deal with Leeds Polytechnic, Leeds City Council and the Sports Council (now Sport England) to fund a new Regional Centre of Excellence for Gymnastics at Beckett Park in Headingley, Leeds. Leeds Poly would become Leeds Metropolitan University in 1992 and is now known as Leeds Beckett University.
There would be shared use of the facility between Leeds Gymnastics Club, the university and the region. The new regional centre of excellence and home to Leeds Gymnastics Club was opened in 1989.
In January 1990, Mike managed with the help of British Gymnastics, Leeds Poly and the Sports Council to bring two coaches to the club for a trial period. Hungarian Lajos Sovago had been a national coach and head coach at the KSI club in Budapest. He also brought Russian Tamara Yatkchenko who had been the coach to ’88 Olympic Champion Elena Shoushanova.
Following the trial period, Lajos decided to make Leeds his new home. Lajos built a team of Men’s Artistic coaches including Warren Slingsby, Vince Brindle and, of course, Mike Talbot.
Lajos introduced a new focus on body preparation and strong basics which helped to cement the club once again as a leader in men’s gymnastics in the UK.
In 1990, Lajos ran the first of many summer training camps inviting coaches and gymnasts from Huntingdon and Hendon along with national coach for juniors, Lloyd Readhead.
Dominic Brindle began training at the club. He had previously been coached by his father Vince Brindle in Bradford. Lajos helped take Dominic to the next phase of his career which would see him compete in the Junior European Championships and make apparatus finals.
The gym’s location, being right in the university campus, meant many talented gymnasts came to study and train. This included Lisa Gannon, who competed for GB at the World Universiade in Sheffield in 1991.
In 1992, the club ran the first of several ‘Yorkshire Open’ competitions. This was an invitational international competition attracting teams and competitors from all over the world. It was an excellent competition environment for Leeds junior gymnasts to compete against some of the world’s best including world champions Alexei Voropaev and Jordan Jovtchev.
In 1996, senior Leeds gymnast Dominic Brindle won one of two spots to represent Team GB at the Atlanta Olympics. Following the Olympics, Dominic would go to study in the US at Penn State University where he would help them to win the prestigious NCAA Championship.
In 1998, Matthew Hewitt represented GB in the Junior European Championships in St Petersburg.
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Mike Talbot at a training camp in Largs with Warren Slingsby, Dave Murray, Andy Butcher and Tom Rawlinson
During this decade, many of the gymnasts took the opportunity to study sport and exercise science on campus at Leeds Metropolitan University. This period of transition saw many of the gymnasts move into coaching.
The club continued to be a sought after gym and study location attracting many top-flight gymnasts from around the world such as Vid Hidvegi who would go on to medal on pommel horse at the World Championships.
Also making the transition to studying was Oliver Kneen who had come to train at Leeds from Halifax at the age of 13. In 2006, Oliver was selected as the none travelling reserve for the World Championships. On the eve of the men’s competition, one of the team was injured in the final podium training. Oliver was flown out to Denmark overnight and with no podium training was put up first on Parallel Bars for GB and competed without fault, also competing well on High Bar and Vault for the team.
Adam Cox who had come to study and train at Leeds also competed at the World Championships for GB and was the 2nd highest scoring British gymnast that year.
In 2008, junior gymnast Theo Seager represented Great Britain at the Junior European Championships helping them to the gold Team medal. This would be the first of a long series of GB junior men dominating in Europe. Theo also made the Vault final. Theo would then go on to compete for GB at the 2009 and 2010 Word Championships where he came 13th on vault.
Alex Uttley, who had trained at the club alongside Oliver Kneen went on to train in Acrobatics and eventually helped GB to the Men’s Fours World Championship.
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Steve Jehu gained a place in the England team for the 2010 Commonwealth Games which took part in Delhi where he helped the team to win Silver.
In December 2011, Mike Talbot sadly lost his short battle with cancer. He passed away in the knowledge that he had helped put the club on a solid footing and that perhaps its best years were yet to come.
This new decade would see Leeds Gymnastics Club move once again. Leeds City Council Leisure Services decided they no longer wished to run a gymnastics scheme. A transition group was established to find and set up a new venue, preferably without disrupting training of the gymnasts.
In early 2012, the gym at Carnegie was dismantled and the equipment placed in storage. Gymnasts and coaches were sent off to train at other gyms around the region before finally in June of 2012, the first sessions got underway at the new training centre and on the 23rd September 2012, Peter Talbot officially opened the Mike Talbot Gymnastics Centre, the new and current home of Leeds Gymnastics Club.
Chris Low was appointed Head Coach by the new club. Chris had been a gymnast with the club since a young boy and had risen steadily as a coach helping to create a new generation of world-class gymnasts.
The new centre was created with the support of British Gymnastics and Leeds City Council. The club demonstrated early on that there was a great demand for gymnastics within the city and the club grew in numbers very quickly from around 300 club members to around six times that number.
In this period, Leeds Gymnastics created a gymnastics festival called Leeds GymFest. This has been held at several places from Dewsbury Leisure Centre to Beckett Park (in the space of the old gym) and has grown to the point where it is now held at the First Direct Arena in Leeds city centre. The event has grown from a small event with a few hundred spectators to packing out Leeds biggest arena with a 4,000+ audience. This is the biggest none ‘British Gymnastics’ gymnastics event in the UK and teams from all over the UK come along to wow the audience with their amazing routines.
In 2014, Nile Wilson was selected for his 2nd Junior European Championships in Bulgaria. After finishing 2nd All-Around on his first showing, hopes were high. But no-one could expect quite how well Nile would do. Nile won the All-Around title by over a mark and continued to win Pommel Horse, Parallel Bars and High Bar, as well as helping the team to win.
In 2016, Shanna-Kae Grant was selected to the Women’s Junior GB squad as well as becoming the British Espoirs Vault Champion.
In 2016, Leeds entered both a junior and senior team into the British Team Championship and won both titles bringing the huge ‘Adam Shield’ back to the club after 39 years. Leeds have demonstrated their juniors’ strength, additionally winning the British Junior Team title in 2017 and ’18.
Only just turning a senior, Nile was catapulted into the senior GB team competing in two World Championships back to back and helping GB move to 2nd in the world in 2015.
On the back of these amazing results, Nile fought hard to make the GB team for the 2016 Rio Olympics – a goal that he had set himself in 2012. The GB team fought hard for a medal but could only achieve 4th place this time. Nile qualified for the All-Around competition and surpassed himself to come 8th. An amazing feat for someone only 2 years a senior. He also made the High Bar final and performed amazingly nailing his landing where the rest of the field couldn’t and won the Bronze medal. Nile continued his amazing run on the world stage, once again competing for the GB team at the 2017 World Championships where he finished an amazing 5th in the All-Around final.
If you have corrections, photos, results or contributions to our history page, please get in touch.
Alan Burrows photos courtesy of Meg Warren. Many thanks to Lisa Gannon, Keith Hughes, Dave Marshall, Warren Slingsby, Lajos Sovago & Meg Warren for their contributions including facts, stories and photos.
Also, see our Legacy page to follow the careers some Leeds gymnasts have gone on to.
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