Kristian  Thomas

Since I retired from competitive sport in 2016, I have gained a real sense of perspective and when I look back on my sporting life, I can see how fortunate I was to have been able to call-upon so much support throughout my career.

I was very lucky to work with superb coaches within a high performance system where athletes like me were assisted in every aspect of our performance by world class sport science and medical support that helped to keep us fit and healthy and did everything possible to increase the chances of us being successful.

But in addition to this I was able to access support that helped me to develop and grow as a person and, when the time came to retire, support me through the process of transitioning out of sport and help me to move on and recognise there is a world of opportunities out there.

I know that not every athlete has had the same experience as me and that many of the people whom I competed alongside for Team GB or Team England have struggled to find the right sport-life balance and gone on to experience difficulties when the time came to retire from competing.

I understand how this can happen and the way in which the unique demands of being an elite sportsperson can lead athletes to neglect their life outside of sport and fail to plan for the time when they have to retire.

Kristian Thomas won an Olympic bronze medal at London 2012 ©EIS
Kristian Thomas won an Olympic bronze medal at London 2012 ©EIS

That was very much my mindset when I was a young athlete and first started to achieve things in gymnastics.

I was an athlete with tunnel vision. Training and competing was all that mattered and the only things I was interested in were getting to a certain score or being selected for a particular competition.  Nothing outside of gymnastics mattered to me.

It was a mindset that enabled me to achieve a lot in the sport, however as I matured and started to think more about my development as a person and my life beyond sport, I realised there had to be more in my life.

This really hit home about two years out from Rio when it dawned on me that it was likely to be my last competition and that I needed to have a route out of the sport that would be a positive experience and give me another focus in life.

Like all UK Sport funded world class performance programmes, British Gymnastics has a Performance Lifestyle Advisor from the English Institute of Sport (EIS) that works with the sport, so I began to have meetings with her and peppering her with questions.

Kristian Thomas has found a new direction in life since retiring after Rio 2016 ©Getty Images
Kristian Thomas has found a new direction in life since retiring after Rio 2016 ©Getty Images

At first it was really just a series of general conversations and helping to establish what my interests were and what were the type of things I might like to do in the future.

Through the conversations I came to the conclusion I would like to stay in sport in some capacity so, working with the Performance Lifestyle advisor, I developed a plan and decided to apply for University studying strength and conditioning.

Having a clear plan in place has meant that overall my experience of retirement has been generally positive.  

I came back from Rio de Janeiro in August and in September I started University so it gave me a complete new focus and meant that I was able to make the transition out of sport quite smoothly.

I know from talking to other athletes that retirement is a very personal thing and that not everyone’s experience of it has been a positive as mine.

This is why I am backing the #More2Me campaign as I think the message it is trying to get across to athletes about having a life outside of sport where planning early for retirement is really important.

The help is out there and my message to any young athlete is to make use of the range of support services that are available to them through their national governing body and the EIS.

It is not about having a concrete plan in place, but just starting to think about life outside of and beyond competitive sport.

I know a lot of athletes might say it will get in the way of training, but there is now research which suggests that having another focus and something else to look forward to away from sport can actually lead to benefits in performance - which is what every athlete wants!

To me it is a win-win situation and I would urge any young athlete to take advantage of all the support that is available to them to help them to grow and develop, not just as an athlete, but also as a person.