Meet The Gymnast: Imogen Cairns

19th Commonwealth Games - Day 3: Artistic Gymnastics

The second in a series of posts looking into Great Britain’s potential Worlds 2011 and London 2012 team.  This weeks edition features the stunning 22 year old Imogen Cairns.


Imogen Jane Cairns was born on 26th January 1989 in Winterbourne in Bristol. She began taking gymnastics classes at aged 6 in her local club, Fromeside. From a young age she showed true talent, being the dominant and strong gymnast in her age group.  At the ages 9, 10 and 11 she won three successive overall National titles. She continued to soar and soon became a an Espoir. It was in 2001 at her first British Championships that Imogen cemented her reputation as a clean and strong gymnast. Here she  won gold on bars, bronze on floor and bronze AA.At aged 14, Cairns moved away from home to train more hours at the Academy of Gymnastics in Portishead, near Bristol at Coach Liz Kincaid’s new academy.

Between the years of 2011 and 2003, Imogen suffered from a few injuries and did not compete, or failed to be noticed at competition when she did occasionally compete. In 2003, she made an astonishing comeback at the British Championships where she performed extremely well to achieve a surprise AA victory, firmly re-establishing herself as a top junior star and one to watch. Following this Imogen was selected for the European Youth Olympic Festival in Paris, unfortunately she became injured again and was forced to withdraw from the competition. She spent the rest of the season resting.

2004 – 2008

In 2004 when finally injury free, Cairns had the chance to show what she was capable of at the Junior Europeans in Amsterdam and the Commonwealth Youth Games. In Amsterdam the British team finished in 4th place, Cairns herself also qualified for two individual finals, placing 5th on floor and 7th on vault. She traveled to Australia for the 2004 Commonwealth Youth Games. Here she achieved 3rd place in the AA competition which featured Australia’s current national team member Chloe Sims, who took the gold. In the apparatus finals Cairns took gold on vault and joint silver on floor. She also helped the English team to take the gold in the team event. To finish off her successful year, Imogen retained her Junior British Champion title in 2004.

In 2005, British Gymnastics suffered disappointment in terms of severe funding cuts in January but was followed by a number of international World Class achievements across all disciplines. The announcement of the successful London 2012 Olympic Bid, in August, marked a new dimension of enthusiasm and hope for the future of gymnastics. Imogen was among those gymnasts who achieved big. British Gymnastics won it’s first medals in the World Cup series, Bronze on Vault and Floor in Stuttgart and Glasgow and she was also a World Finalist on Vault (8th).

Cairns competed in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. Here she placed 4th in the AA competition and earned the silver team medal and gold on vault. Her 4th place AA finish was highly debated, as a long wait followed the Australian Hollie Dykes’ final routine, which British Gymnastics officials claim was needed for the judges to figure out what score was required to ensure a Bronze medal finish. Imogen was solid on every piece of apparatus, where as Dykes fell on all.

Later in 2006, Imogen was a member of the British team in the 2006 European Championships in Greece. After injuries to team mates Beth Tweddle and Shavahn Church, Ishe was left as the most experienced member of a three athlete squad. Her performances helped the  British team to seventh place. She also competed in the vault final, and placed 8th once again. There was no AA competition, but in the qualifying rounds Imogen’s AA scores were 10th highest. No British gymnast has bettered this in a European all-around competition.

Beijing 2008

Imogen was originally selected as a first travelling reserve for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, however when team mate Laura Jones continued to struggle with an on going injury, she was called up to the team to make her Olympic debut. Whilst their MAG team mate Louis Smith became the first Britain to win a medal in the individual gymnastics at the Olympic Games since Walter Tysall won a silver medal in 1908, the WAG gymnasts were not as successful. Becky Downie was the only gymnast to qualify to the AA finals, Imogen placed 33rd out of 62 AA gymnast. She was named as the second reserve. Team GB qualified 9th, just outside the top eight. In 2008, Beth Tweddle was the only female British gymnast to qualify to an event finals, placing 4th on Uneven Bars.

Post Beijing

In the October following the 2008 Olympics, Imogen became injured once again. This time, her injury sidelined her for almost two years. Cairns was warming up when she felt her legs “snap”. She told BBC’s Ollie Williams:

“I assumed my career was over,”.

“There were times I was in bed at 2am – all my sleeping patterns had gone because I was sat down doing nothing every day – and I was staring out of my window thinking, ‘I just want to go to the gym’. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even walk. It was dreadful.

“It happened during a warm-up. When I landed I felt both legs snap – not the bones, but everything else snapped. 

“It took me a long time to walk again, and then it didn’t heal properly. Scar tissue formed and I had to go back for another operation to clear that out.

“All the skills were still in my head, I just needed to get fit, but it took me two years to get back. The hardest part was doing nothing for six months, in bed. I lost my motivation, I was putting on weight and I became very depressed.”

The injury required surgery,  she had drilling of the bone, two operations on each ankle resulting in her not being able to walk properly for six months. Luckily her medical treatment was funded by the National Lottery, she had top treatment and rehabilitation at the University of Bath.  As Imogen had not been training and had begun to have a social life, she considered quitting gymnastics luckily she figured that she had nothing to lose if she returned to training. It was the thought of retaining her Commonwealth title which kept her going through those tough 15 months.

Imogen – the Comeback Queen of British Gymnastics

Imogen returned to gymnastics almost 2 years after her ankle surgeries. In 2010, she set foot on the competition floor once again at the 2010 British Championships in Guildford in excellent form; where she won the Gold medal on vault, placing fourth on beam and floor, and fifth in the All Around. This boosted Cairns confidence and she set off to Dehli to compete at the Commonwealth Games. It was here that she claimed sweet reward after suffering such a long and painful injury. She was one of the gymnasts who took home 24 medals in total from the Games. Cairns left Dehli with gold on vault and  floor and a silver team medal. Watch her winning routines below:

Imogen had not been named in the 2010 Worlds team, she was called up to the team when Danusia Francis became injured. She was chosen as a result of her strong and impressive performances in Dehli. She had originally been chosen as the nominative reserve and having taken into account Imogen’s Commonwealth Games performance and her confidence levels , BG felt that she would add to the Team performance.

The British team qualified 5th at Worlds and finished in 7th place in the team final. Imogen qualified for the vault final but finished in 8th position. Out of the whole team, only Cairns and Tweddle qualified for an individual apparatus final, while Hannah Whelan was a reserve for the floor final.

She has remained relatively quiet of late, working hard towards her next goals, the 2011 World Championships in Tokyo and the London 2012 Olympics. Most recently she won the gold medal on Vault at the British National Championships and 3rd on beam. She still trains with Liz Kincaid 6 days a week in Portishead. A selection of photos from Alan Edwards, BG’s official photographer were released of Liz and Imogen some time ago.

Cairns for 2012?

Imogen hopes to make it on the team for the 2012 Olympics. Only 5 girls can be chosen. Imogen is a strong contender for a spot on the team, she is  especially strong on beam and vault where the UK tend to be weak. She previously said:

Everything has gone so much better than I thought, I just wanted to get to the Commonwealth Games and anything else would have been a bonus. But I think I can push my body through a bit more and now I want to see what my limits are. When my body collapses, that will be it.

People now keep asking me about 2012 and I think it is more and more possible in my head. We are growing as a nation but only five will go to the Olympics. I will probably end up trying to go, but it will be tough.

Imogen no longer competes on Uneven Bars but would prove to be an extremely good assest to the team with her beam, floor and vault scores. I hope that she stays injury free until Worlds and can remain healthy and strong to make it to London 2012. Her name competition will be in Romania with her British team mates.

Achievements to date:


  • Junior British Champion


  • Junior British Champion


  • DTB Cup 4th place Vault
  • British National Championships, 3rd AA, 2nd Vault, 2nd Floor
  • World Championships, Melbourne, 8th in Vault Final


  • Commonwealth Games, Melbourne,  4th AA, Silver team Medal, 1st on Vault


  • Commonwealth Games, Dehli, Team silver, gold on Floor and Vault
  •  Glasgow Grand Prix, 2nd Vault


  • British National Championships, 1st Vault, 3rd Beam
* Imogen’s achievements have been located from various sources, some titles may not be listed. 

 Next week’s post in the “Meet The Gymnast” series will feature Rebecca Tunney .

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  1. Toni says:

    Becky Downie qualified to the AA in 2008. I think she finished about 10th.

  2. Admin says:

    Many thanks Toni :)

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