LONDON (Reuters) - Three months ago, gymnast Beth Tweddle cried herself to sleep fearing that knee surgery had put paid to her last chance of winning an Olympic medal.
On Monday, she stood on the third step of the podium at London’s North Greenwich Arena after winning asymmetric bars bronze and becoming the first British woman to get an individual Olympic gymnastics medal.
“It’s the one medal that I‘m missing from my collection,” Tweddle told reporters after finishing 0.217 points behind new champion Aliya Mustafina of Russia.
”I always said I don’t care what color it is. I‘m made up with the bronze.
“Twelve weeks ago I couldn’t think about competing here. I cried myself to sleep back then because I thought it was the end of my Olympics. Tonight it will be easy to sleep, because I have a medal.”
At 27, and competing in her third and, she says, final Olympics, Tweddle, twice world champion on the bars, has profited from a British initiative to improve the nation’s results in the sport with new funding and support.
The results have paid off in London with the team competing on level pegging with the big guns such as China and the United States and the men already taking three medals.
Home support has helped, with the crowd at North Greenwich Arena making so much noise on Monday that Tweddle could not hear coach Amanda Reddin’s final words of wisdom before she presented to the judges.
“I just had to kind of lip-read it,” said Tweddle, who finished fourth in the same final in Beijing. “She normally just says ‘Calm down and do what you can do’.”
Tweddle had collected the highest score in qualifying but a step back on landing from her more-difficult dismount in the final cost her and she watched the silver medal go to 2008 champion He Kexin of China.
“I‘m not disappointed in the slightest,” Tweddle told reporters. “I won’t look back thinking if only I hadn’t taken that step. Before the Games I said any medal, any color would make me happy and I am just going to stick to that.”
The British women’s only previous medals had been in the team event at the 1928 Amsterdam Games, when they won bronze. The cash-strapped team could not stay an extra night to wait for their medals ceremony and went home, getting their medals later.
Tweddle, then, can safely claim to be the only British female gymnast to have been in an Olympic medals ceremony but she will not be back for more in Rio de Janeiro in four years’ time.
“My body can’t hold out that long,” she said.
Additional reporting by Rosalba O'Brien and Michael Holden; Editing by Greg Stutchbury