What inspired you?
My sister was into gymnastics and I remember being dragged along to watch her and thought it would be cool to do some flips.
Who was your first coach?
Burnley Gymnastics Club was run by Mick Redmond and the boys coach was Stuart Ingham who also ran the Trampoline club and so we competed in trampoline competitions as well.
What was your first competition? Hard to remember but would say the Club Championships and probably say that I finished near the bottom! At my first NDP (the national set exercise competition) I was the reserve for the North West team and that made me determined to make the team the following year. I did make the team and we won the team competition and I won a surprise individual bronze medal!
At what point did you know that you could be good? I think it was much later, I became Junior British Champion at 18 but then never thought I would become an Olympian. I was the reserve for 1994 Commonwealth Games for England and for 1996 Olympics and these were pretty dark days but it’s the tough times that makes us either give up or become stronger. So in answer to the question I would say in 1998 when I became Senior British Champion and then to captain England men to their first Commonwealth Games team gold in Kuala Lumpur.
Who are the people you have met and have changed your life?
Stuart Ingham, my first coach from Burnley Gymnastics, I was a pain as a child and disruptive and spent many a gym session sat out or facing the wall. Gymnastics and Stuart taught me discipline at a young age.
Mick Redmond has been in my life since I started gymnastics at nine and we are still good friends to this very day. When things went wrong and I needed to talk to someone he was and is always there for me. A true gymnastics legend.
John Atkinson, I remember while at Lilleshall, there were rumours that John was going to come and coach. I was so scared of him and was terrified, but when he arrived he was brilliant, very motivational and great to work with.
Nikolai Liskovitch from Belarus worked with us at Lilleshall for a year and without doubt one of the best coaches I have had. He gave me belief and confidence in my gymnastics and I loved every training session with him and when he left the UK I was very upset. Martin Reddin, he was the coach I selected to take to the Olympics with me and was coach for the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games and is a great friend to this day
What was the best moment in your career?
Without a doubt performing at the Olympics Games in Sydney in 2000. Qualifying for the Olympic All-Around final and achieving my Personal Best score and finishing 32nd in the WORLD! I never ever dreamed that I would become an Olympian but just goes to show if you are willing to work hard and push yourself then anything is possible. Dream BIG I say! Craig was our only men’s representative at Sydney.
Was the end of your career good or bad?
My career ended after the 2002 Commonwealth Games and for me, I was ready to retire. I had done gymnastics for 20 years and wanted to move onto something new. I had achieved more than I ever imagined and I have had an amazing life in gymnastics. I think people had written me off after the Olympics and so I decided to stay on to the Commonwealth Games to prove a point to myself and those doubting people. So I’m glad I did stay on. Manchester was an amazing experience and to captain England to gold again was a real privilege. I wanted to make sure that when I retired I didn’t have any regrets.
Watching the TV and saying to myself that I wish that was still me so I’m lucky I had an amazing journey. Having seen the success of British Gymnastics over the last ten years and getting to commentate on it, I feel very proud. Yes, we all would want an Olympic medal but I could not have worked any harder than I did and feel totally happy with my gymnastics career.
What impact has gymnastics made on your life today?
It has made me the person I am. I try to work hard in everything I do and don’t like to settle for poor quality work, my own especially.
I started coaching in City of Newcastle Gymnastics Club (2004) for a few years after I retired and enjoyed it for a while and had some success but after a while I realised that I had come back to gymnastics too soon. At the same time I had just started mentoring young people and loved sharing my dreams with people and inspiring them to follow theirs. Changing peoples’ lives is such a rewarding job. I work all over the country now delivering motivational speeches, after dinner talks, personal development workshops, comparing events, presenting and speaking at awards events. I have stayed in gymnastics while working with the BBC radio 5Live team at the 2012 & 2016 Olympics, 2014 Commonwealth Games and then with BBC sport on the European and World Championships and more recently on the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia. My ambition is to build a Gymnastic centre in the North East where everyone regardless of age or ability can come and “have a go”.
What were your most notable achievements?
1998-1999 British Champion In 2000 I had a broken hand so could not defend my title even though I went on to make the Olympics
5 x European Championships
5x World Championships
1998 & 2002 Commonwealth Games team Captain and Gold Medal winner
2000 Olympics, All Around finalist with Personal Best Score
by Craig Heap