A supremely talented gymnast with very strong West Cork connections danced her way into the hearts and minds of the British public during the European Games, held in Baku, Azerbaijan, earlier this summer.
Team GB member Hannah Baughn, along with her colleague Ryan Bartlett, captured an historic three silver medals in the balance, dynamic and all-round categories of the mixed pair acrobatic section at the first ever European Championships. The pair who appear to possess a telepathic partnership have since proceeded to claim two gold medals at the British Gymnastic Championships held in Liverpool recently, which maintains their status as the hottest gymnast couple presently appearing on the circuit. Hannah takes time out of her hectic training schedule to talk to John Bohane about her recent success and hopes for the future.
Hannah Baughn, the diminutive dancer, who only turns 15 later this month, appears to be blessed with twinkle toes. Possessing a graceful and genial poise with a beautiful delicate movement, combined with a stunning flexibility, ensures she literally has the gymnast world at her dazzling feet. Her amazing balance, quick feet and agility ensure she has a very bright future ahead.
Looking back to her roots, Hannah’s grandmother Mary, (nee O’Brien), came from The Corner Bar, 37 Bridge Street, Skibbereen, while her grandfather, Dan Sweeney, was a native of Rath, Baltimore. The pair met and settled in London, where they had four daughters. Hannah’s mother Elizabeth, along with her three sisters and late grandparents were and still are frequent visitors to the West Cork area where they meet up with their huge entourage of friends and extended family members, who were extremely proud of their cousin’s brilliant performances at the European Games.
Hannah and Ryan, entered the European Championships with genuine hopes of a sustained championship run, but capturing three bronze medals surpassed her wildest expectations, as she revealed. “It was a great experience to perform in Baku. It felt great to perform in front of such a massive crowd. There was a superb atmosphere, the crowd was really good, the onlookers really inspired you to achieve new heights. It was nerve-wracking initially, but once we did our moves our concentration was fully focused on our performance. It was a great achievement to gain three bronze medals. We were competing in a very strong field. Russia, who came first were very strong and very experienced, while the Belgian pair have been a partnership for the last two years which ensured they were very strong with their artistry. Ryan and I have only been partners for the last ten months so I’m thrilled we did so well. We are both overall champions at junior level but in different disciplines. He won a mens’ pair and I won a womens’ pair. To take on pairs I had seen compete for several years was never going to be easy, so it definitely surpassed my wildest dreams to get not one but three bronze medals. I was so proud that we completed five clean routines. We will gain from this experience and the more we practice together, hopefully the better we will perform in the future.”
Hannah, competing in her first multi-sport event, was delighted her proud mother Elizabeth was present in Baku to witness her little angel capture three bronze medals, as she revealed. “It was great to have my mum there. It was a special feeling to win the medals. It is something I will always treasure. She has been a great support and presence for me throughout my career and I would like to dedicate my medals haul to her. She has always been there for me and I really appreciate her support. All my family has been inspirational for me. I would have loved for my elder brother James and my dad to have been present also, but my mum is the one who takes me to and from training. She travels everywhere with me. She is a great support anchor to me. She offers great emotional support which I really appreciate.”
Hannah really enjoyed competing in her first European Games, where as part of the Team GB camp, she encountered several famous British sports personalities keen to lend their sporting expertise to the budding star. “It was the best competition I have ever competed in because it was a multi-sport event, which meant there were a great buzz around the place with all the various teams and competitors inter-mingling with ease. We stayed in the athletes’ village with all the other competitors from every international country. It was a surreal experience. Seb Coe and Martin Johnson popped in to greet us. It was amazing to be addressed by two sporting giants. They offered us great advice. At nighttime we would all gather around and have movie nights which helped relax before competition. All our GB teammates would come to each venue to support us. There was a really great spirit built up within the camp. Team GB gave all the medal winners a standing ovation when we walked back into our camp headquarters after each competition, which was very humbling and special. I have made lifelong friends.”
Acrobatic gymnastics is currently not listed as an Olympic sport but amidst growing popularity for the beautiful discipline, there is growing optimism that it will be officially recognised as an Olympic discipline in the foreseeable future much to Hannah’s hope. “It has always been a huge dream of mine to perform at the Olympics. There is a big campaign underway at the moment for the Olympic chiefs to include acrobatic gymnastics as an Olympic sport down the line. It is a great spectator sport but due to it not being an official Olympic discipline, people don’t really know about it. There is a real buzz on social media about us at present and Team GB are delighted we are getting the recognition we deserve as it will help strengthen their campaign to gain Olympic recognition in the imminent future. I hope they are successful as it would be a great honour to participate in the Olympics. ”
Hannah, who took up acrobatic gymnastics at the age of seven, engages in a punishing training regime, which comprises of training sessions six days a week, for up to three hours a night. She also participates in early morning training sessions, which take place twice a week for a period of one-and-a-half hours. This gruelling regime is required to ensure Hannah and Ryan further enhance their technique, whilst ensuring their harmonious gymnastic relationship is further developed as they pursue more success in the foreseeable future. Hannah’s next target is the World Championships, which are scheduled to be held in China next March.
“It is a very hard discipline to pursue, as so much training is required, but I love it. The standard is so high that one small mistake can move you out of contention for a top three finish. This requires a great level of concentration, which results from incessant training practice in order to perfect our routines. We can afford to make slight mistakes in training, but in the heat of championship action, if either of us lose concentration for so much as a split second or lose our balance slightly, one of us will fall, which results in a huge loss on points. In the dynamic performance, we also have to ensure our technique and delivery is perfect as you can actually hurt yourself badly if a move goes wrong because of the height, flight and speed of our routine. The World Championships next March are our next target. The competition will be intense. We hope that if we prepare accordingly we will do well.”
Hannah, who is “long overdue a visit to beautiful West Cork”, was always aware of her strong West Cork connections and Irish heritage growing up in London. “I was always very conscious of my strong West Cork roots growing up. All my family always made me aware of it. My mum has told me many stories of her great summers spent in Skibbereen and Baltimore. I have a lot of cousins there who I cannot wait to catch up with once again. They offered me lots of support and encouragement during the European Championship, which I was really grateful for. It meant a lot to me.”
Hannah’s immediate goal is to participate with distinction at the forthcoming World Championships, with her long term goal a wish to pursue her education with a scholarship to a British University.
“My short term aim is to take part in the World Championships next March. After that, I hope to continue with my second level education. I would love to work with Cirque Du Soleil or maybe get a scholarship to a University. It would be great to get a full time job in a sporting capacity, maybe a job within Team GB coaching young gymnasts. I may even start up a club in Ireland. It would be great to give something back. It is a great sport and I would love to ensure the next generation are well catered for in terms of training etc.”
Continued success in the gymnastic world appears to be well within Hannah’s grasp, as she continues to tiptoe her way to championship glory with a ruthless determination and graceful panache.