A Magherafelt boy who joined the British gymnastics squad only 11 months after taking up the sport looks set to make good his ambition to go to the Olympics.
Eleven-year-old Jack Eakin has returned from the recent British National Development Plan (NDP) finals in Birmingham as the first Northern Ireland male gymnast to win a medal in the challenging all around category, which includes the rings, parallel bars, high bar, pommel horse, vault and floor.
The Magherafelt High School pupil travels for two hours, six days a week to Salto Gymnastics Centre in Lisburn where he trains for four hours each session.
Asked how he keeps motivated, he replied: “I keep motivated by just thinking of Olympic gold.”
His mother Kerry said his journey began at eight years of age when he was watching gymnastics on YouTube and turned around to tell her: “I am going to the Olympics.”
The footage inspired him to try his hand at the sport, although the initial response from one coach was not encouraging.
“Before he tried out the coach told us he was probably too old to start at eight-years-old. But immediately afterwards he asked us if he could start training four days a week.
“I guess the signs of his potential were always there. He climbed to the top of a five-bar gate at 12-months-old and used to climb to the top of the door frame at two or three.
“You do wonder where he might be now if we had started him earlier. But he got onto the British squad only 11 months after starting the sport. It has never been heard of before.”
Other recent medals include a silver in the U12 voluntary section at the London Open in September, where he was competing with boys a year older, and he also won gold on the vault and silver on rings.
A week later he won gold in the NI Championships and earlier this month he took his bronze in the NDP Finals in Birmingham, coming third in a pool of 30 regional champions.
Three other NI boys who also performed well in Birmingham, with coach Conor McGovern, were Chester Enriquez (Elite Grade 3) who finished 16th and, in their first national finals, Brody Neely and Oliver Robinson, who placed 23rd and 17th overall in Elite Grade One.
Anne-Marie Barr, chair of Gymnastics Northern Ireland, said: “Congratulations to the boys who represented Gymnastics NI in the British NDP finals. Gymnastics NI are delighted with the results. This was a great development experience for the boys and we’re excited to see what the future holds for these young gymnasts and the growth of boys gymnastics in Northern Ireland.”