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Tweddle’s hat-trick achievement throws Rooney’s millions into sharp relief

Triple world champion Beth Tweddle (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Beth Tweddle secured both personal and team glory for Great Britain in Rotterdam by winning gold in the uneven bars, rounding off a day in which Louis Smith and Dan Purvis also won silver and bronze to ensure Great Britain’s best ever performance at a World Artistic Gymnastics Championships.

Despite being her favoured event, Tweddle was an underdog coming into the uneven bars final, having qualified behind reigning champion Ke Hexin and her Chinese teammate Huang Qiushuang. However, both Chinese girls fell during their routines, opening the door for her. Tweddle had fallen from the top bar during last year’s championships, and her nerves must surely have been jangling having seen her two biggest rivals fall immediately before her.

We should never have doubted her. Tweddle is a redoubtable competitor, consistently cool under pressure, and her difficult and varied routine was flawless, earning her a score of 15.733. Of the five other finalists who followed, only Russia’s Aliya Mustafina came close to matching the Briton’s score, registering 15.600. The USA’s Rebecca Bross was a distant third with a score of 15.066.

The 25-year old Tweddle is the only British gymnast to have won World Championship gold, and today’s victory marked her third such success, having triumphed on the same piece of apparatus in 2006 and on the floor last year.

It means everything to me to regain the bars title. I have worked so hard day in day out in the gym for this so I’m very proud. I wasn’t watching the previous routines but from the noise of the crowd I could tell the two Chinese girls ahead of me had fallen and so I tried to remain calm, but knew at that point that if I went clean I had a great chance of winning the title.

Earlier in the day, Dan Purvis had followed up his fifth place in the men’s all-around competition with a bronze medal on the floor, while Louis Smith took silver on the pommel horse, with a small error potentially costing him gold. Double Commonwealth gold medallist Imogen Cairns finished eighth in the final of the vault. Never before has the Great Britain team collected such a haul of medals at a single World Championships – and this was achieved without the injured Daniel Keatings, who won silver in the men’s all-around last year.

Gymnastics used to be a sport in which we were something of a laughing stock, where also-ran status was the best we could ever aspire to. In no small part due to the success of Tweddle, gymnastics is on the up and Britain can look forward to a ground-swell of support and medal expectations by the time the London 2012 Olympics comes around.

Nonetheless, it remains very much a minority sport in terms of the funding and commercial interest it generates. Last year, Tweddle received £25,000 in lottery funding, supplemented by a sponsorship deal with equipment manufacturer Gymnova worth about £10,000. That brings her total earnings to around £35,000 – similar to the average for a higher level NHS midwife, and less than a typical London tube driver. Or, to put it another way, in a week in which a certain England footballer somewhat cynically negotiated a new contract with Manchester United which, reportedly, has at least doubled his £90,000 per week basic salary, it would take Tweddle at least five years to earn what Wayne Rooney is now paid every week (and that is before you factor in his image rights and other commercial earnings).

Yes, I understand all the arguments that justify the incredible amounts top footballers are paid. I know the popularity and economics of football and gymnastics are on completely different scales – hell, they are on completely different planets – but is Rooney really worth 250 times what Tweddle is? One is a three-time world champion who has inspired a new generation to take up a sport they might otherwise have ignored in record numbers. The other has never made it past the quarter-finals of a major tournament.

As Tweddle told the Guardian last year:

If I was doing this for fame or money I would have retired a long time ago. As long as I keep doing what I love, training and competing in gymnastics, I don’t really mind. I’m very happy.

In so many ways, Beth Tweddle is a remarkable young woman. It is a tragedy that she has received so little financial recognition for her achievements.

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