Six dedicated and talented athletes are attempting to write their names in a block-busting early chapter in the fledgling history of Harefield Gymnastics Academy.

Katie Smith, Ciara McGrath and Sophie Burfield, and Hannah Feeney, Claire-Louise Thompson and Grace Blacklock, hope to become the club's first medal winners at a World Acrobatic Gymnastic Championships.

Smith, McGrath and Burfield compete in the junior women's groups at the Fifth World Age Group Championship this weekend and a week later the second trio make their bid for the senior women's groups title at the 21st World Championships.

Both competitions take place in Glasgow.

Although the club, which has only been running for two years since it split from Harrow Gymnastics Club, has already been represented in the World Championships, which are only held every two years, two seventh places are the best they have managed.

This time, however, hopes are high that both trios can exceed that and maybe even finish on the podium.

"I'm expecting the junior trio to medal," said Natasha Maxwell, the club's head coach and founder. "The seniors, I want them to final (top eight), because the senior competition is incredibly tough - the toughest I've ever known."

Acrobatic gymnastics is one of the lesser known disciplines of gymnastics and unlike the artistic variety, which is more familiar due to its inclusion in the Olympics, it does not involve any equipment.

Athletes participate in twos, threes or fours, grouped either as men, women or mixed, performing choreographed routines to music for up to 2.5 minutes.

The idea is to impress judges with both individual and group skills, demonstrating static elements like handstands and other balance moves, as well as dynamic ones such as somersaults after being launched several metres into the air.

Blacklock, from Eastcote, is confident her trio has what it takes to beat allcomers from Russia, China, Ukraine and Belarus, who are GB's traditional rivals.

"We should get through to the final and then it's anyone's game," she said. "If we go clean we could be up there.

"We've got the skills and the artistry, it's just how we perform on the day.

"I want to be World Champion and then Olympic Champion when it gets into the Olympic Games."

Blacklock, who at 23 is the oldest member of the club, is a two-time British champion and like McGrath and their team-mates they have been training up to six days and 30 hours a week in preparation for Glasgow.

McGrath has three British titles to her name, she makes her second trip to the World Championships and is also setting her sights high as she hopes to attend to some unfinished business.

"I want to medal and hopefully get gold," the 16-year-old admitted. "We were lying second last time but made a mistake and finished seventh."

If the girls can achieve their targets it will be a major boost for their club, although it hardly needs it.

Maxwell broke away from Harrow after her squad cleaned up at the Freedom Cup three years ago, convincing her it was time to take the next step.

An invitation to bring elite gymnastics to, and set up a permanent home at, The Harefield Academy which was being built in Northwood Way, could not have worked out better.

"Coming here has been a real boost to the club," commented Maxwell, who had to share facilities with two other squads at Harrow. "It was ideal timing really.

"I set up the club so I could be more in control and so I could develop it further and we've gone from strength to strength since then."

The figures back that up impressively. A group of 23 initially came with her and that has now grown to almost 200 members aged between five and 23, including 50 squad gymnasts who participate in competitions.

It is growing fast and, boosted by the popularity of the Beijing Olympics and its subsequent ripple effect, Maxwell plans to add more classes after the World Championships.

That is something she could not even have contemplated until moving to the new base and the relationship with their landlords has been a marriage made in heaven.

The school helped the club buy their start-up equipment, charged them much-reduced rates to get them on their feet and still charges them a cut price rent.

Eight club members subsequently switched to the school, a sports academy, so they could train during the day and not just in the evening, and they have special timetable to allow them to do that without affecting their schoolwork.

Blacklock now works there and when postal worker Thompson was told no one could take holiday from now until Christmas she had to choose between her job and the World Championships.

When the school offered her a job too, the decision was easy.

Such incredible support means the club, which is already among the top five in the country to offer acrobatic gymnastics, is well on the way to achieving Maxwell's aim of making it the top club in England, without forgetting youngsters who just want to take part.

The club's motto is 'aiming for excellence' and Maxwell is keen to stress that means helping an individual to be the best they can be, whatever that level may be.

That said, bronze and silver medals at a European Championships represent a solid base to build on going into the Worlds.

Now those involved aim to beat the best from 27 other countries and mark themselves out as lead characters in the blossoming tale of Harefield Gymnastics Academy.

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