In a bid to complete the ultimate sporting Cinderella story, tumbling icon, Kristof Willerton, will attempt to win his second world title a decade on from striking gold in 2013.
Gifted with sublime athleticism, a sensational tactical IQ and an unrelenting will to win, the 30-year has spent his career making history and putting Team GB on the map. And now, with legacy at the forefront of his mind, he’ll look to complete the next chapter of his sensational tale at the World Championships in Birmingham, UK.
Kristof Willerton aims to bag the gold, ten years on from doing it the first time
In an exclusive interview with Sporf, he said: “I think the qualification date, the day that we compete, is going to be ten years to the day from when I last won. I never knew how long I would keep doing it. It was a funny one in 2013. When I won, a lot of people were saying, ‘What’s next? Are you done? You’ve hit the pinnacle’.
“At that time, it wasn’t a big goal. The first competition I made the final in was the home World Championships in 2011. And I remember coming 4th and thinking, ‘I don’t think it’s ever gonna get any better than that’. I thought I’d hit my peak, and that’s fantastic, but I just kept going because I loved it.
“Winning changed the pressure a little bit. It took me a while to get back into doing what worked best for me. That’s why I’ve had success in recent years. With this year being ten years on, it will be quite a special one. It will have a little bit of significance and nostalgia. But I’m just going to treat it like any other competition.”
Kristof Willerton has the mindset of a champion
Throughout his career, Willerton has utilised his remarkable intellect to out-think his competitors, working out exactly what he needs to do to put him in that all-important winning position.
The former biochemistry student explained: “I’ve definitely used it to my advantage a lot of times. But it has certainly been a disadvantage as well. There have been plenty of times when I’ve overthought and overcomplicated things instead of trusting my instincts and doing what I do best.
“There’s definitely been a lot of competitions where I’ve really been aware of what’s going on and tactically been able to give myself the best shot of hitting the top ranks. But mainly, I think my head’s always in the sport. I’m always thinking about what I can do and staying motivated. I think that’s what keeps me going long-term.”
Kristof Willerton has had an incredible journey to the top of the tumbling pyramid
When Willerton performs his routines, the world watches in wonder as the awe-inspiring athlete moves his body in a way that both mesmerises the audience and borderline defies science. But before he was a global success, he was just a boy who wanted to ‘throw himself around’.
He reminisced: “As a child, I was doing lots of different sports. I just had so much energy to burn. I remember, I was waiting for my sister to do gymnastics, and they just shoved me in. To be honest, I just enjoyed throwing myself around the floor. I think that’s what tumbling is. When I think back, it’s funny. When I was at my first club, which was quite low-level in terms of tumbling, we used to see videos of people doing these things. We always used to joke, saying ‘Oh, we can do a double backflip’ and kind of jump back twice and pretend that’s what we were doing.
“So, at that stage, there was never any thought that I could ever get to that stage. I just fell in love with the journey of doing it. I never did it to get to the top level. It’s nice to reflect on starting as a kid and why I got into it and look back at how far I’ve come, because sometimes you forget.”
Kristof Willerton on his famous hair ritual
Whenever fans tune in to watch Willerton, they’re expecting two things — a flawless performance and his trademark hair routine.
Before he starts his run, he’ll move his hair to one side. And the moment that’s complete, his supporters know they’re in for a treat.
He explained: “Yeah, that’s still there. I started that in the 2011 championships. It turned into a little ritual that I quite liked, and I remember at one point, I thought, ‘I’m gonna stop it’. But then people said, ‘You can’t stop. That’s what you do. It’s iconic now’. So, it’s still there today. It’s a little different from what I used to do, because I use it as my mental preparation now, to switch on slightly differently, but it’s still there.”
Kristof Willerton loves giving back
While he enjoys his downtime watching the NFL and supporting Plymouth and Everton through thick and thin, the sportsman’s number one passion will always be tumbling. And thanks to his remarkable achievements, he’s been able to spearhead Team GB’s success, guiding the side to multiple medals.
And with prospects across the country looking to him for advice, he’s delighted to have solidified his place as a pioneer capable of inspiring the next generation.
He beamed: “There are so many people who’ve had a big input into making British tumbling into what it is today. So to just be a little bit part of that is nice. It’s amazing to see team members come on who watched me when I was younger.
“I remember looking up to a lot of people and seeing my idols at competitions. So, to give gymnasts the motivation to continue their careers has been great. And one of the most exciting parts of where we’re at, is seeing the strength of where the programme is now.”
Willerton continued: “We are one of the top competing disciplines for Team GB. We’ve got a consistency about it, and seeing some people come into the sport and really come into their own and push the standards has been great.
“We’re always asked what our advice is for kids, which is nice. We’re a very niche sport, but I think everyone who does it is very passionate and does it because they love it. That’s my favourite thing in sport. I hope everyone watching the world championships gets inspired to do a sport they fall in love with.”
The Trampolining World Championships commence tomorrow.
Featured Image Credit: Simone Ferraro