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There has been one country in recent years that has been able to break through the Russian and Chinese domination of gold medals at worlds competition – Great Britain.  Winning gold medals at the Senior World Championships in both the Men’s Pair and Mixed Pair disciplines, James Reddy hopes to continue this streak by being part of the first Men’s Four from Great Britain to strike gold on the world scene.

Putting in full time hours  at a Public Relations firm and at the gym leaves little time for extra curricular activities, but the ever friendly, always candid Reddy, made time to talk  with Acro Update about life, acro and his quest for a world medal.

Just the facts:

Name:  James Reddy

Age:  26

Family:  2 brothers: Anthony (29) and David (15)

Club:  Wakefield Gym Club, Yorkshire, GB

Partners:  Simon (top), Gaz (base) and Glen (3rd man)

Accomplishments
1996: 5th overall in World Championships
   1998 & 1999: British Open Champions and British Tournament Champions
   1998:  6th – Polish Open
   1999: 4th – Zeesterne Trophy, Belgium.
   2000: Seniour British Champions, British Tournament Champions, USSA Invitation Champions, Flanders
            International Acro Trophy – Champions
   2001: Puurs International Acro Trophy - Champions

Workout Schedule
Subject to change, but usually:
ACRO:    Mon, Wed, Fri: 6-9pm at Wakefield
Tuesday : 6.30-9pm in Leeds
Sat & Sun: 10am – 2pm in South Tyneside (2 hours drive)
Resistance Training/CV: Mon-Fri:  6.30am-7.45am

Coaches: Volodymir Matusenko, Craig Lowther, and ourselves

Hobbies: Beer, films, reading, writing, listening to music, relaxing

Fav Book: A few – I’m not sure: ‘High Fidelity’ – Nick Hornby, ‘The Dice Man’ – Luke Rhinehart, ‘Bravo Two Zero’ – Andy McNabb.

Fav TV show: At the moment – The Sopranos and Big Brother, but I don’t have time to watch much TV.

Fav food: Not sure.  Either Cantonese style sweet and sour pork, Thai beef, Lasagne, or my mum’s pork in apple sauce followed by her home made suet pudding and custard…….mmmm, that’s got to be the winner.
 

IN THE BEGINNING…

AU:  How did you get started in acro?

JR:  I started at a club that only competed in acro when I was nine in my home town of Darwen, Lancashire, in the North West of England.  I was British schools tumbling champion when I was 14, but competed at a relatively low level until I went to University in Leeds (North East of England) when I was 18.  I joined Wakefield gym club when I arrived in Leeds, decided that I was a terrible tumbler and began men’s pairs.  My base position was awful, but we had one international and narrowly missed out on going to the Worlds in 1995.  Then we started men’s 4 on 2 Jan 1996, and 4 changes of partnership later we now have our current Men’s 4.  Myself and Gaz have been in the group since the beginning though.

AU:  Did you play any other sports?

JR:  Yes, I played football (‘soccer’ to you yanks) until about the age of 14, and tennis and table tennis until I was about 12 years old.  I’ve done most sports recreationally – swimming, squash, athletics etc., and I played for my uni at volleyball.

AU:  Describe your partners:

JR:  Gaz – 44DD chest – loves the women and the women love him.  He doesn’t take anything seriously apart from his training, and he loves being annoying, ie twisting your nipples until they’re red raw.  He also cut all of my hair off once when I was drunk and left bits of hair and big bald patches.  He’s as stiff as a board, he’s never been down in splits, but he’s a strong guy and adds at least another foot in height to Simon’s somersaults when he pitches.  A great laugh and a good friend.

Simon – A very talented top, who is a great competitor.  He has excellent presence on the floor and the crowd and judges love him during routines, because he’s cute, a good dancer and a show off.  He also performs exceptionally well.  His tempo skills are good, but he could do with tightening up in balance, though this is getting better – he can 1 arm down now and 1 arm, press over to 1 arm flag on pedestals – now we just need it on the balance!

Glen – Glen has only been with us since the middle of June.  He’s very strong and experienced in mixed and men’s pairs (he’s been to Worlds 8 times in 4 different partnerships) though this means that he’s got to learn new techniques for men’s 4.  He’s an extremely hard worker and isn’t pleased with himself unless he gets it right first time.  I can’t wait until we’ve finished working basics with him, because tempo will fly and Simon will easily triple from his platform!
 

AU:  Tell us about your coaches:

JR:  They’re completely different, but both of them are determined to help us achieve our goal of a gold at the Worlds.

Craig is a very hard coach.  He won’t stand any nonsense and if a top/base isn’t thinking about their move and lets it drop he’ll let them know that it’s not acceptable.  He’s a good spotter and likes to take things out of the belt as soon as possible so that the top doesn’t get too reliant on it (mentally and technically).  He gets his results by pushing his gymnasts hard and making them work hard.

Vlad is very slow and methodical and likes to ensure that all moves are done technically [correct].  He spends a long time on balance and believes that 70 % of training time should be spent conditioning (preparing moves), and he won’t take tempo moves out of the belt until he’s sure that the top is mentally and technically ready.  Vlad’s phrases “Only condition” and “Only technical” and that’s about it.
 

AU:  Describe a typical workout for you:

JR:  Weekends are our only full training sessions and it’s mainly conditioning at the moment.
2 minutes running about then 5-10 minutes stretching my bridge while Gaz collapses on a crash-mat, Simon stretches an Glen stretches.
1 ¼ hours conditioning bridge balance – maximum holds with Glen, Gary, and a weight jacket.  While we do this Simon conditions balance – 1 arm holds, 1 arm straddle ups, planche conditioning, flag conditioning, and they do three high balances and climb downs to semi-column.
 ½ hour conditioning side by side – push to straight arm, holds, without assistance etc.
 ½ hour – Glen and Simon work balance together. Me and Gaz gossip like old women.
 ½ hour - Condition tempo.  Stretch jumps to catch with Glen and with Simon, change base stretch jumps etc.
¾ hour - Tempo moves - basics then full tempo moves with Simon – 2 or 3 maximum of each. Any new moves we are learning go in the belt and we do about 10 of them to teach Simon the spatial awareness.

AU:  How do you juggle both work and elite level acrobatics training?

JR:  I was difficult when I lived 2 hours away from the gym, but I moved 5 months ago and now there’s no problem.  I work 9-5.30pm, but I can get into the office at any time, so if I have work to catch up on I can do it on a Sunday afternoon or some other time.  It doesn’t leave much time for anything else, but there’s always enough time for a couple of beers.  It’s all about priorities.  If you want to win then you’ll make time for your training however little time you appear to have.

COMPETITIONS…

AU:  Describe your first competition:

JR:  It was a floor and vault competition when I was 9 years old in Wigan, England.  I forgot my routine on the floor and saluted 3 times before continuing.  I got a score of 4.4 and unfortunately my dad still has it on video!  I did, however, win bronze in the vault competition, scoring 5.95.

AU:  You competed in the 1996 World Championships – can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

JR:  It was fantastic.  It was my 1st year of men’s 4  and we only had 10 months from start to finish, including 3 months out where John (top) broke his arm doing tuck back to 3 high, and I was hospitalized after being knocked over by a taxi.  We dropped twice in the trials, but we were still selected, and the Worlds were our first international.

In the 5-minute warm up we dropped our most difficult move about 10 times and we were incredibly nervous (as were our national coaches).  Bob Cooper, Spelthorne coach, calmed us down though, and we went on and did a brilliant routine.  The crowd loved the routine and in the final, when the judges only gave us 9.72 (which we thought was generous) the crowd began booing and the whole competition hall gave the judges a hard time.  It didn’t change our score, but it boosted our egos!  We only made one small mistake in 5 routines, so even though we didn’t have the most spectacular moves we came fifth, as a lot of the other 4s dropped moves.  The atmosphere was fantastic though and I can’t wait to experience it again

AU:  How did you like competing at the US Nationals in Florida?

JR:  We loved it.  For a start the weather was superb, so it felt like a holiday, and there was no real pressure on us to perform.  Having said that we weren’t pleased when we dropped in the balance [preliminaries].  The US nationals are completely different from the GB nationals, because they’re much more of an event.  When you come off the floor you feel like a superstar because everyone comes up to you telling you that you’re fantastic.  You soon come back down to earth though when you see videos of the Worlds and see all those other 4s that are much better than you.

The best part of the nationals was the social aspect – meeting lots of new people…and winning the ‘best choreography’ award at the banquet.- if you’d seen me and Gaz learning routines you’d realize that we’re two of the worst dancers in acro!

THE BIG PICTURE…

AU:  What would you consider your biggest accomplishment?

JR: Probably just the fact that we’ve still got a men’s 4.  We’re on our 3rd third man now and it takes a lot of re-training to get back to standard…..and then get better.

AU:  What are your acro goals for the future?

JR:  I’ve only got one acro goal and it’s been the same for as long as I can remember – to be World Champion.  I’ve now realize that I’m terrible at all the other events, so my goal is to be part of the men’s 4 that wins the world championships.

AU:  What do you feel you need to do to achieve these goals?

JR:  Firstly we need to get picked, so we need to win the national trials next year.  I see that tempo will be hard work, but not really a problem.  I’d like to have triple to catch, double straight, double tsuki, full-in straight/pike and maybe double pike front half out.  Balance will be much more hard work for us, but that is all it will be – hard work.  I need a much stronger bridge, the others need a solid pyramid and Simon needs to spend thousands of hours conditioning and practicing balance on his own and then with Glen.  We’ll probably have a balance that involves 3 high on bridge, climb down to semi column, where Simon performs at best 1 arm, 1arm flag and 1 arm down on arm.

AU:  Britain has become one of the top acro countries in the world – to what do you attribute that?

JR:  Like anywhere in the world there are talented acrobats, but we also have a handful of coaches who have made acro their no.1 priority.  There wasn’t much knowledge of the sport in the UK 20 years ago, so we were at a pretty recreational level, but Matei Todorov (from Bulgaria) came across in the mid to late 80’s as national coach.  He opened people’s eyes to other ways of doing things and brought knowledge with him.  Our top coaches learned from him, but they also took it upon themselves to learn from other coaches around the world.  Spelthorne, in the South of England have always been successful, but they have learned a lot recently from a Russian coach, Vladimir Markachenko, and we’ve learned a lot from our Ukranian coach.

There are many different ways of coaching, and in the UK we seem to have picked a bit up from everywhere and the results show. Across the board we’ll never achieve the standards of countries like Russia or China, because our system isn’t the same.  In China, they train for 6 or 7 hours a day – you can’t compete with that when you’ve got to go to school and to work.  Their outlook on life is different too.  We’re much more materialistic (in general), so we put other things such as holidays and our free time first.  Their whole lifestyle is geared towards the gym, so it’s obvious that they’re going to have the edge.  Back to why we’re doing well now -  the popularity of acro has grown in the UK, so it stands to reason that the broader base you have, the more people you’ll get climbing to the top.

AU:  How do you think acro in Britain differs from acro in the US or other countries?

JR:  See above) + It seems a lot more recreational in the US.  Naturally there are people that want to get to the top, but it seems that acro is still put alongside cheerleading in the US, so the image is that the sport isn’t highly competitive.  Yes, it’s got to be fun, but you’ll never win if you just want to mess about all of the time.  For example, your nationals are a social occasion as much as a competition, which means that they’re great fun, but ‘it’s the taking part that counts.  That attitude is fine, but it doesn’t produce winners.  I know not all clubs are like that…I’m just talking about what I see as the general perception of acro in the US.  And like I said before, countries such as the Ukraine and China would think the same about the UK – it just depends which window you’re looking through.

AU:  What is your reaction to the new code of points?

JR:  Good and bad.  It seems ridiculous that Portugal can beat Russia in balance because they put so many rubbish moves into a routine that it builds up the tariff.  On the other hand, if you analyze the code and find out which moves have the most value, it stands to reason that the country doing the most difficult and technical moves will win, as they’ll always have more tricks up their sleeves than the opposition, [giving] them the highest tariff.

It seems more fair than the old system where one nation could do double tuck, another do triple and come out with the same mark – that’s ridiculous.  On the other hand, it encourages people to throw dangerous moves to gain tariff and could completely wipe out the technical aspect of the sport, and that wouldn’t be good.  Also, I don’t think we want to be in the same situation as ice-skating where you can fall on your arse 3 times and still win – anybody viewing the sport wouldn’t have a clue what was going on and who deserved to win.  I’m not offering a solution – I just know that I like to see difficult moves performed well – not near-impossible moves done badly.

AU:  All time favorite acro memory:

JR:  A few – The crowd’s reaction in Riesa, watching the 1991 Europeans in Portugal and seeing the Russian Men’s Pair (Yuri Stepchenko and ? ) and the Mixed pair (Natalia Redkova and Evgeny Marchenko).
 

AU:  Any other interesting info you want to add?

JR:  I think I’ve said enough!