Interview: Rising British gymnast Claudia Fragapane

Sports Mole catches up with Great Britain's 17-year-old 'pocket rocket' gymnast Claudia Fragapane after a whirlwind year.

If you walked past Claudia Fragapane in the street and were then told that she was a world-class athlete, you might wonder quite how.

At just four feet and six inches, teenage gymnast Fragapane is a diminutive figure, but she certainly packs a punch.

The 17-year-old shot to stardom this year, especially at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow where she won four gold medals for England - the first woman to do so since swimmer Joyce Cooper in 1930.

Since then she has been to China to compete at the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships, where Great Britain came sixth and she registered top-10 finishes in the individual all-around, vault and floor finals.

After a whirlwind year, Sports Mole caught up with the Bristolian, who gets her name from her Italian father, to talk the past year, what's to come and more.

Claudia Fragapane of England competes on the way to winning the gold medal in the Women's All-Round Final during day seven of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on July 30, 2014© Getty Images

With the year starting to wind down now, how do you reflect on 2014?

"It's been absolutely amazing. Going to the Europeans for the first time, then going to the Commonwealths and Worlds all in one year has just been mind-blowing really."

Would you say that Glasgow was the highlight?

"Yeah, it will stay with me for life. Getting the four golds at the Commonwealths was incredible, but also going to the Europeans and coming second as a team was unbelievable."

It was recently announced that Glasgow would be hosting the World Championships next year, what will it be like going back there?

"It will be so special, it's going to bring back so many memories and it's just going to be nice to go to Glasgow again. It's a lovely place, there's lovely people and lovely equipment there as well. I'm really excited, but only if I get picked!

Claudia Fragapane of England is kissed on the podium by Ruby Harrold and Hannah Whelan after winning the Women's All-Around Final at the SECC Precinct during day seven of the Glasgow Commonwealth Games on July 30, 2014© Getty Images

"Going back there will definitely help me. Being in Glasgow and the Hydro was such a big competition and it helps give you a feel for big venues. The experience I had there and the audience, I'm looking forward to doing it again."

Those Worlds will play a big part in whether you qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Are you already looking that far ahead, or just taking one competition at a time?

"I just take it one event at a time. The Worlds is a really big competition. We'll be trying to focus on making a really good impression as a team. I think that's our main priority and then individual stuff will be a bonus. The team performance is the priority."

Looking back at your display in Nanning at the World Artistic Championships recently, are you a little disappointed because you fell in the floor final?

"I was a bit hard on myself because I was hoping to do better than eighth really. In a way I wasn't really that disappointed, though, because I did the routine three times before that and I stuck it well. So it's just that fourth time when there was a little bit of a hiccup.

"I think the reason I made the mistake is because I was trying too hard. Yeah, I did come eighth, but it was eighth in the world at floor so I think it's a massive, massive success for me. Obviously when I fell I was a little bit upset, but then I thought of the ups and downs and there was more ups than downs."

Britain's Claudia Fragapane lies after slipping during her performance at the women's floor exercise final of the gymnastics world championships in Nanning on October 12, 2014© Getty Images

At the Commonwealths you weren't competing against the likes of USA, China and Russia so was Nanning a bit of a reality check?

"We weren't against those countries in Glasgow, but we were against Australia, which is a very good gymnastic country. There was Canada as well and plenty of other good gymnasts. At the Europeans we were up against Russia and Romania and they pushed us to be the best that we can be. It's just nice to see where you are as a gymnast."

When you're at a competition like the Worlds, do you try to watch countries like the States and maybe get ideas from them?

"Well, kind of. Really we just focus on ourselves and we try to perform to the best of our ability. We do look at the others and say 'wow'. There's nothing negative that ever really comes out of our mouths.

It's been a great year for British gymnastics, are you confident that by the time Rio comes around you'll be able to really compete with the biggest nations?

"We just want to work hard as much as we can as a team and keep on improving and upping all our grades on each piece. Hopefully when it comes to Rio we bring it like we always do and get the best out of each other as we're such good friends."

Claudia Fragapane of England performs on the beam during the Women's All-Around final of the Artistic Gymnastics event during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 30, 2014© Getty Images

At just 4'6", it's hard to ignore your height. Do you feel that it's an advantage or disadvantage on the whole?

"Overall I feel like it's an advantage. Like when I'm on the bars and go in between the bars I don't have to do as many shape changes to avoid hitting the bottom one like some gymnasts do. As I'm so little you can ping off the bars a bit easier though because my hands are so small!"

Given that you've got such a small frame and with the strenuous routines and training, how much longer do you think you can compete at this level?

"I think I can compete as long as I want really. There's a gymnast that's 30-odd and Beth (Tweddle) competed until she was 27 so I think that as long as your body is still good, you can compete as long as you want.

"I'm definitely hoping to do Rio and then maybe carry on after that. I don't see myself doing Rio and then quitting. I think I want to carry on after that and maybe go to the next Commonwealths."

How many hours exactly do you train a week?

"I train six days a week and on four of those days I do double sessions which is about six hours. The other two days I train about five hours so in total it's about 35 hours, like a full-time job!"

Does that mean you struggle sometimes to have a good balance in your life?

"I did at first when I first started doing a lot of gymnastics just because I couldn't go out and do what I wanted. Then I started to realise that it's a hard sport and it takes a lot dedication and a lot of your time.

"So I just said to myself I'm not going to focus on going out and just focus on my gymnastics. I've done that now and when I finish gym one day I'll still have time in my life to do the other things that I want do. It's quite a short career being a gymnast, so I want to do it right."

Gold medalist Claudia Fragapane of England poses during the medal ceremony for the Women's Floor Final at SSE Hydro during day nine of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games on August 1, 2014© Getty Images

You already do some coaching even though you're just 17, is that what you'll want to move into once you stop competing?

"I like working with the kids and helping them get to an elite level. I'd definitely like to get all my qualifications and be a coach like the ones that I have now. I coach at Bristol Hawks and I'd love to carry on with that, but also maybe have my own kids club."

You've shot into the limelight this year, do you enjoy all the attention?

"Yeah I feel like it's nice. It's funny how kids come up to me and ask for my autograph, but I like it. I also get letters in the post and it's really nice to read their little messages about how I'm inspiring them to get into gymnastics."

How important do you think awards like the Sky Sports Sportswomen are when it comes to shining a light just on women in sport?

"I think it's very important. We work very hard and it's nice to get recognition on the women's side of things. Obviously the men work super hard as well, but it's nice to get a bit of recognition for the girls' side."

Claudia is nominated for Young Sportswoman of the Year at the Sunday Times and Sky Sports Sportswomen of the Year Awards, celebrating women in sport at all levels. Watch on Sky Sports 1HD from 8pm on November 19.

Claudia Fragapane of England performs on the beam during the Women's All-Around final of the Artistic Gymnastics event during the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, on July 30, 2014
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