Seven months ago unfancied Joe Fraser gatecrashed the global gymnastics scene by claiming Great Britain’s first parallel bars gold medal at the World Championships in Stuttgart.
If Fraser thought his stunning victory was set to sweep him straight to Tokyo he was sadly mistaken, as the coronavirus pandemic redirected him into a motivation-sapping lockdown at his parents’ home in Birmingham.
Unlike some of his contemporaries who are bemoaning an additional year of training for the Tokyo Games, or otherwise relieved to be given extra time to recover from injury, Fraser is unsure whether the 12-month delay will bolster his prospects, or reduce his momentum.
Either way, the Birmingham athlete says his performance in Stuttgart, when he scored 15.0 to eclipse Turkey’s Ahmet Onder despite having only qualified for the final in third place, simply underlined what he has known all along – that he belongs on the biggest stage.
Fraser, 21, told the PA news agency: “I got over the feeling that I don’t belong here a long time ago. Having such great team-mates around me always made me feel comfortable and confident in the gym.
“I’m quite 50-50 about Tokyo. I’m trying to look at the positives. I know I was in the best shape I’ve been in, but now I know I can get back in there and do even better.”
With the British Gymnastics training base at Lilleshall still in lockdown, Fraser has been maintaining his fitness using gym equipment, but admits even the imminent prospect of his Olympic debut cannot entirely erase the inevitable motivational issues.
“I’ve got quite a lot of equipment and I’m able to Facetime my training partners and coach, so I’m quite lucky, but it’s hard to keep the motivation when you wonder when we’re going to get out of this,” added Fraser.
“The motivation has been very up and down. Some days I find it easy and some days I really struggle. But I feel very privileged and lucky that I’ve got people who care about me like my family and coaches, to help me out.”
Fraser is spearheading a British Gymnastics fundraising drive for NHS Charities Together, encouraging fans to post photos or videos of themselves ‘presenting’ – the move performed at the start and finish of a gymnastics routine – under the hashtag #PresentForPounds.
The idea is to ‘present’ and make a donation via the British Gymnastics Justgiving page, before nominating five friends to do the same. British Gymnastics has vowed to match donations, up to a maximum of £50,000.