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Gymnastics: Baines hopes to have last word after stick from English rivals

WHEN it comes to the 2014 Common-wealth Games, Frank Baines is a man in demand, having found himself in the enviable position of having two nations vying for his allegiance.

Frank Baines is lucky to be competing again after a training accident       Photograph: Stewart Attwood
Frank Baines is lucky to be competing again after a training accident Photograph: Stewart Attwood

With a Scottish father and English mother, there has been plenty of lobbying on both sides among his gymnastics peers. "There was a lot of persuasion from the two Dans [Purvis and Keatings] and Adam Cox because they believed it would make it more of a competition between England and Scotland if I was Scottish," grins Baines. "I'm looking forward to it because I train with a lot of the English lads. I got a lot of stick at first but it's all smoothed out now.

"They think it should be good now there's more competition. They tried to persuade me the other way but I felt more Scottish to be honest."

Baines, 18, is among the 10-strong Team Scotland gymnastics contingent selected for Glasgow 2014 joining Purvis, Keatings, Cox and Liam Davie in the men's side. It marks a fairy-tale climax to a tumultuous period which saw the Liverpool-born gymnast come back from a potentially career-ending injury. Baines, the 2012 European junior all-around champion, fractured four vertebrae in his back in a training fall from the high bar last August.

"My first fear when I landed was that I wouldn't be able to walk," he recalls. "I actually got told after the accident that a gymnast 10 years before had a similar accident and hadn't been able to walk afterwards.

"I'm dead lucky to still be able to walk and train. It felt like someone had hit me over the back of the head with a baseball bat. The trauma caused my eyes to swell up so I looked like I'd been in a bar fight.

"I had to wear a big neck brace. Now I'm finished with it I'm going to spray it red and yellow so I can use it as an Iron Man suit at Halloween. But it wasn't nice being trapped in that for six weeks."

When it comes to heroes within the sport, Baines hasn't had to look far, having grown up just five minutes round the corner from Purvis. "He's a massive influence," he says. "People always say their idols in gymnastics are [Kohei] Uchimura, the world champion, but Dan has always been my idol because he's not just a good gymnast but dead nice to everyone in the gym.

"I was able to study his techniques and copy him so I could improve my gymnastics. You don't have to be Uchimura or have an insane lifestyle: Dan has a normal lifestyle but is able to do amazing gymnastics.

"He is a local celebrity. A lot of people recognise him as the 'ginger gymnast'. They would ask: "Were you at the Olympics? Oh yeah, you're the ginger one".

If it all comes off as hoped in Glasgow, Baines could soon be enjoying his own moment in the spotlight. He and the rest of the Scottish men's team are aiming high.

"We're definitely pushing for a gold medal if we can produce a clean competition," he says. "We'll probably have some bets with the English guys as it gets closer.

"I'd say the English team are strong on pommels but for the Scots, our strongest event is parallel bars. Whatever they make on pommels, we might be able to make up on p-bars. On the rest of the apparatus it's pretty even, so it will depend who performs best on the day."

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