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Representation on the national stage - British Tamil gymnast and gold medalist speaks to Tamil Guardian

“I didn’t really believe it at first,” said Shobhitha Gnanaratnasingham as she reflected on her gold medal win last year. “It really took me off guard when everyone’s scores came out and I realised I had won!” 

The West London teenager was reflecting on her gold medal at the 2023 Acro, Aero and Rhythmic British championships last year, and how much it meant for her and the British Tamil community.

“Initially starting out when I was young, I never really thought about how I would be some sort of representative for the Tamil community because I never really understood that there weren’t actually a lot of Brown kids in this specific type of gymnastics,” she said.

“But as I got older I kind of noticed that there’s actually not that many Asian kids here, so I felt really proud of myself.”

The current British National Aerobics champion in the senior category, outshining other competitors aged 17 to 24, Shobhitha said her win made her realise “just because there’s not a lot of us in certain areas doesn’t mean that we can’t actually be at the forefront of these sorts of things”.

 She spoke to the Tamil Guardian on her journey to finding her passion for gymnastics, stating it began in unusual places.

“I actually started out in horse riding,” she revealed. “And I was alright at it, but it didn’t really feel like the right sport for me. My mum was friends with someone whose daughter was doing aerobic gymnastics and she suggested I try out the class. I just immediately loved it!”

Growing up balancing swimming, horse riding and gymnastics, Shobhitha explained how she decided to focus on her main passion.

“It was really gruelling to do all three alongside each other. At some point, it came down to me having to pick between the two. I did end up picking gymnastics even though I was pretty good at them all. I just found more joy in gymnastics and I think that was the most important thing to me, actually enjoying what I was doing.”

 Shobhitha offered advice for other young budding athletes struggling to develop a love for sports.

 “I think sport is an important thing for everyone to experience, even if you’re not particularly good at it. Having a sport gives you that perseverance and drive and if it’s a team sport that sense of community.”

“If you’re a young athlete and you’re just starting out, it’s really good to be able to actually connect with what you’re doing, rather than just doing it because your parents told you, you should. If you don’t truly like it, I would say try and find something else that you do love because it’s really worth it.” 

Shobhitha expressed profound gratitude to her coach, Natalia Illienko-Jarivs, whom she regards as a role model in the sport. A dedicated mentor training Shobhitha up to five times a week, Natalia serves as an inspiration for Shobhitha and aspiring gymnasts, having previously competed in the European Championships for Artistic Gymnastics for the USSR, the Moscow World Championships and having won the senior British champion for Aerobir gymnastics in 1997 and 1998.

Shobhitha also extended heartfelt appreciation to her parents for their unwavering support and encouragement.

She will be defending her gold medal in Telford at the 2024 British Acrobatic, Aerobic and Rhythmic Championships.

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