by Andrew Misra

A team of four acrobatic gymnasts from County Durham were supposed to be competing at their first World Championships over the last few days, but due to coronavirus the event has been postponed.

Despite the setback, the group has found innovative ways to continue training during lockdown, with hopes of still competing next year.

The group, consisting of Aaron Greally (aged 16), Jonathan Henderson (14), Marcus Winship (17) and Sam Stafford (18), are based at the Deerness Gymnastics Academy at Ushaw Moor in County Durham.

Together they make up the Men's Four group who were set to represent Great Britain in the 13-19 age category last weekend.

However, like with many sporting events, the games were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the disappointment and uncertainty over when the games will be rearranged, the lads are training at home to stay in shape - by dialling in from their living rooms!

Coach Jesse Heskett is leading the workout sessions online over Zoom. He is one of several former world champions produced at the Deerness club.

One of the team's Zoom workout sessions

Heskett stopped competing a couple of years ago and has been coaching the lads since then.

He said: "In two years I’ve gone from being a gymnast to coaching, so I'm incredibly proud of both them and on a personal level."

The team usually train together in the gym for twenty hours each week, across five four-hour sessions.

Many other sports stars have been adapting to unconventional workouts over online video platforms during the lockdown, including Durham cricketer Chris Rushworth.

But the nature of acrobatic gymnastics means that doing something similar is particularly challenging for Heskett and his team.

Partnership work involving lifting and catching, integral to acrobatics, is impossible to replicate virtually, so the team have instead been working on skill-specific activities as individuals.

Acrobatic gymnastics involves a lot of partnership work

You’ve got to break it back and do all the progression work that you need to do before you do the partnership work. It’s taking a step back from the day to day work and focussing on the progressions required to do it.” >

Jesse Heskett

However one element they have retained is discipline, training on the same days as they would usually and Heskett says he "likes to make sure the lads dial in on time."

It is those principles that led them to win silver at the British Championships in Liverpool last year, before travelling to Mexico in November to participate in the Pan-American Championships.

Acrobatic gymnastics is a self-funded sport so fundraising was required to meet the cost of £2,000 each to make the trip.

It turned out to be well worth it though as they returned with three gold medals.

Following that competition, attention swiftly turned to the World Championships - the grandest stage for acrobatic gymnastics as a non-Olympic sport.

Although lockdown may have only delayed the games taking place, dreams of competing against the world's best are hanging in the balance for the oldest member of the team.

Top left to bottom right: Stafford, Winship, Greally, Henderson

If the event is rescheduled for next year, as seems likely, Sam Stafford will be ineligible if the current age restriction rules are carried forward.

He has been doing gymnastics for fifteen years and now may miss out on the chance to represent his country in acrobatics.

He said: "It is sickening, it’s a horrible situation to be in because we’ve worked so hard for two years. As a men’s four we’ve put a lot of hard work in and given up a lot to get this opportunity.

"It’s nobody’s fault it’s just the circumstances we’re in."

I’d like to wake up tomorrow and go to the gym and train and know that the worlds will be in December, but it’s not the world we live in unfortunately." >

Sam Stafford

Stafford, an apprentice teaching assistant, is staying positive, despite the setback. He says even if he can't compete he will be at the World Championships.

He said: "I’d love to go and watch them, I’d have my pom-poms and my sign! I’d love to go and see them do well. Whatever happens I will be there watching them.”

Regardless of what happens next, the 18-year-old hopes to stay involved in gymnastics and performing.

He added: "I've always wanted to pursue a career as a performer. I would like to go and work abroad, or to coach."

Watch Andrew Misra's full report below: