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Road to London: Keatings still has work to do

Even a World Championship medallist can find himself playing catch-up such is the strength of British gymnastics at the moment.

An ankle injury meant Dan Keatings was a bystander last month as the Great Britain men's team won European gold in Montpellier for their first major title, but with the Olympics looming, the 2009 World Championship all-around silver medallist is back in competition.

Last weekend at the Slovenian Grand Prix in Maribor, he finished fifth in the high bar final and he is currently in Ghent for the Belgian World Cup, where he qualified in third place for today's final of the pommel horse, as he seeks to make a greater mark in the build-up to the British Championships in Liverpool this month, where he will compete in all six disciplines.

Keatings, brought up in Corby but who qualifies to compete for Scotland through his father Robert, who is from Edinburgh, knows this is the time that everything has to slot back into place before he stands on the biggest stage of all.

"Obviously, I was gutted I wasn't there with the team [at the European Championships] to try to pick up that gold medal and I was proud of them for doing so well," he says. "But it was the best decision for me to stay out of the Europeans to give me that extra couple of weeks to let my ankle settle down ready for the important qualifiers for the Olympics.

"It's the balance with any sport – you want to keep training and keep competing right up until the Olympics and obviously, if you get injured, it's not the best thing. You have to weigh up the balance and listen to your coaches."

It is not Keatings' first injury setback. In May 2010, he suffered a tear in his anterior cruciate ligament which ruled him out of the sport for the best part of a year and 2011 proved a difficult one by his own high standards.

At the World Championships in Tokyo, while the GB women were celebrating their success at qualifying for the Olympics, the men's team under-performed, Keatings falling on the pommel horse and the high bar exercises. It meant their qualification rested on a good performance at the Test event at the 02 Arena. Thankfully, the GB squad raised their game to book their Olympic place with Keatings playing a starring role.

"It wasn't the best but I think it was always going to happen," the 22-year-old says. "As a team and as individuals, we had just kept going up and up and we were bound to have a dip in form at some point. It was good we did it last year rather than this year so we have the bad result out of the way and now we can bind together as a team and concentrate on London.

"There was a lot of pressure on us as we had to go to the Test event and get a good result. It was obviously nerve-racking but we really came together as a team. We had all gone down to Lilleshall over Christmas and New Year and worked our socks off. It paid off.

"It was the second time I've competed in front of a home crowd at the 02; the other was in 2009 [when he won his world silver medal] and both competitions have been brilliant for me so hopefully I can make it third time lucky at the Olympics."

Keatings believes the British team negotiated a significant barrier when Huntingdon club-mate Louis Smith won a bronze medal at the last Olympic Games in Beijing. Since then, the GB team – which includes fellow Scot Dan Purvis – has grown in self-belief with medals coming at major championships and World Cup events.

"Before Beijing, our last medal was in 1908 so it was great to finally get a really big result internationallly again. From when Louis won that medal, it kick-started GB on the men's side," Keatings says. "The international results we've had in the last four years have been amazing. That's what makes it nerve-racking going into competitions because there is now that expectation on our shoulders. We've had the results before so people are expecting it from us all the time.

"But we just have to go into the Olympics, knowing we've done hundreds and hundreds of routines in training; we just have to settle down and then stand up in front of the judges and do our best."

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