Hector Kinghorn and Sam Large are not your average pair of 11 and 13-year-olds. For one thing, they exude an unusually high level of drive and commitment. And for another their extraordinary athletic abilities are beginning to turn heads in the ultra-competitive world of acrobatic gymnastics.
Anyone who has seen the pair perform their routine can attest to the magnificence of their gymnastics. In one of their signature moves, the 13-year-old Sam acts as the base while 11-year-old Hector steps on to his shoulders to execute a perfect extended back flip. The boys have spent the past year competing in a range of regional and national competitions, consistently winning critical acclaim along with enough trophies and gold medals to fill any display cabinet.
But how did these two young men come to rise so far so fast in what is a notoriously challenging and competitive sport?
Unbelievably, Hector has only been involved in gymnastics for a little over two years. When explaining where his interest in the sport originally stems from, he says: “I saw Louis Smith in the 2012 London Olympics and I was blown away by his performance. That’s what originally inspired me.”
Hector duly joined the Next Dimension Gymnastics Academy (NDGA) in Tunbridge Wells at the age of nine. He was in good hands: many of the coaching team at the club are former or current international level champions while the academy itself is a £2m state-of-the-art facility with a sprung floor. After attending a few recreational sessions, Hector’s talent and flair was recognised and he was invited to join the club’s elite junior acrobatic squad.
Sam Large has been a gymnast for fractionally longer than Hector – two and a half years. As the ‘base’ of the pair, his core strength is phenomenal. He’s only been training with Hector for 18 months, so how does he account for their success as a pair? Sam says, “I think we’re quite competitive and we always try to do better. We both want the same thing – success. We spur each other on because we’re both committed.”
Seeing the pair perform together is like watching a well-oiled machine. But with Sam supporting Hector’s weight, there’s also a tremendous amount of trust required between them. Isn’t he ever worried he may drop him? Sam says: “The job is not to drop your partner but to do it right. It also helps that we’re good friends.” Their coach, current European acrobatic champion Chris Rogers, is also keen to stress that they are taught how to tumble and learn different ways to avoid potential hazards. He describes the boys’ progression in the sport as “unusually fast paced.”
The training the boys do is a measure of their commitment to the sport, averaging an eye-popping, muscle-bulging 17.5 hours a week. This can make juggling the competing demands of gymnastics and schoolwork a challenge. Sam says: “I had a meeting with my headmaster recently about missing school for competitions. Luckily he was very supportive.” Hector is currently in his last year at primary school so he says it’s “not really that big a problem”. However, when he moves up to secondary school, the chances are that his gymnastic career will become ever more consuming.
The boys competed in the prestigious Pat Wade Classic tournament in November, their biggest competition to date, which Rogers describes as “the British Championships in all but name.” So how did they find the experience? Sam says: “That was a big one and we’d never done a major before. There were lights shining on the performance floor, but the audience was in complete darkness. We also saw lots of people perform who we’d only ever seen on You Tube before.”
The competitions are about to become ever bigger for the pair. On 4th March they will be competing in their first international, the MIAC World Cup in Portugal, being the first men’s pair in the South East to do so. With 600 gymnasts competing from countries as far flung as Australia, Brazil, China and Russia, this competition really does represent something of a milestone for the boys. So where next? Rogers says: “In June we’ve got trials, so we’re effectively working towards the European Championships.”
As a European Champion himself, does Rogers see parallels with his own experience as a teenage gymnast? “I did my first Europeans when I was 16, three years older than Sam, and I wasn’t at the standard they are now. In football terms they’re Manchester United youth team whereas I was Yeovil Town under-16s. I didn’t have as much talent as the boys have – there’s definitely scope for them to go much further.”
While the pair will be competing in the World Cup against gymnasts who have been training much longer than them, Rogers doesn’t see this as a problem. He says: “All the judges say there’s more about this men’s pair, a bit like Torvill and Dean. They make up for their relative lack of experience with a lot of hard work and having something uniquely special about them.”
To find out more about the NDGA, please call the academy on 01892 550 530 or email email@example.com