The Olympics marks the pinnacle of competition for many sports, and regardless of how slim the chance is of reaching the Games, so many athletes devote much of their life to reaching them. Absolute Gymnastics coach Sarah Mercer in one athlete who reached the top of her sport, and competed for Great Britain at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona.
She has even made her mark in gymnastics history with a move named after her. Mercer was the first gymnast to perform the double front dismount off the bars, now known in the code of points as ‘The Mercer.’
The Olympian is a popular coach at Absolute Gymnastics and is chief mentor of the UAE Special Olympics gymnastics team. Mercer provided a magnificent glimpse into the life of an athlete at the Olympics.
Can you give an insight into the experience of competing at the 1992 Olympics?
It was like nothing I had ever seen before. 10,000 athletes in an Olympic Village. Walking out from the breakfast hall with the U.S basketball dream team right there next to me or sitting next to Boris Becker at breakfast without realising. You were able to spend three weeks amongst so many sports legends. I met Princess Anne and the Prime Minister (John Major) from the UK. There were so many fans, I signed so many autographs, posed for pictures, and just had so many life changing experiences. Most importantly you knew just how hard everyone in that village had worked and the sacrifices they had made along the way to that Olympic dream, because you had done the same yourself to experience that Olympic glory.
When did you think international representation and the Olympics could be a real possibility?
Around the age of 11, my coaches and my parents started making it possible for me to have an international career. My family moved halfway across the world so that I could represent the United Kingdom internationally. I always knew that 1992 Barcelona was my only chance and that’s all I ever dreamed about and worked towards.
Who impacted when you were moving up the ranks as a young gymnast?
My idol was Russian gymnast Elena Shushunova who won the 1988 Olympic all-around. I loved how hard working and determined she was, not naturally talented but always gave it her all. I suppose I wanted to be exactly like her, as I was not naturally talented but worked hard to achieve what I did.
Gymnastics is an incredible sport where you master different events to take part in high level competitions. How do you go about excelling in each event e.g. vault, uneven bars and floor when they all require different skills?
I trained between 6-8 hours a day 6 days a week. I left home at 13 to train at the National Sports Center. Many sacrifices were made along the way – I worked hard and lots of blood, sweat, tears and some tough injuries went into everything I did. (I performed) the same routines and skills over and over again on each apparatus until they were perfect. That was the only way to master anything.
Can you provide the background of your coaching career?
I have been a coach on and off for 25 years coaching in the U.K, South Africa, Spain and now the UAE. I enjoy coaching all levels from beginner up to elite squads, and most importantly children of determination. I have been with Absolute Gymnastics since September 2019 and I love the fact that it has a family feel to the club both inside and outside the gym.
What makes you passionate about coaching?
Gymnastics is not just a sport; it teaches you valuable life skills and I believe it should be accessible to everyone. I enjoy passing my experiences in the sport on to others. I also love to see children achieve their goals through hard work and determination – this is an invaluable life experience.