Biochemistry undergraduate Kristof Willerton becomes World Champion in Tumbling
Third-year Biochemistry student Kristof Willerton has a lot to celebrate this year. A fourth successive win in the British Tumbling championships in July has been followed this month with a gold medal in the 29th FIG Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Kristof becomes the first male from Great Britain to take the world tumbling title. You can admire his two runs by watching this FIG (Federation Internationale de Gymnastique) video. He was also part of the British team that won a bronze medal at the championships, the first GB team medal in ten years.
A student at St Edmund Hall, 20-year old Kristof started gymnastics at the age of 4 and moved into tumbling when he was 10. He attended his first international competition aged 12 but his best successes, he says, have been since coming to Oxford and competing at senior level.
‘In Oxford, there’s the ethic of working hard with your studies and it’s the same at the gym,’ he explains. ‘I find it quite releasing from academic studies. I don’t think about my studies when training, but I come back refreshed and ready to work again.’
Kristof travels to Basingstoke to train about 4 times a week for 2-3 hours. ‘I generally train from the afternoon into the evening, but fit it in with work and go when I can,’ he says. ‘There’s also a local trampoline club at the University where I can improve my skills. If I don’t go to train, I am less motivated to work – I have too much energy to sit around.’
He is very used to travelling having had to make the journey from his home town of Gloucester to Andover on a regular basis to train before he came to Oxford. The biggest change now is that he is independent and can decide what training he wants to do.
The competitions themselves also impose a huge demand on his time. Summer saw not only the British championships but also the World Games in Columbia, a multi-sport event similar to the Olympics for non-Olympic sports such as tumbling. Kristof took the bronze medal in this competition.
Kristof takes centre stage on the podium with his gold medal at the World Championships in Sofia
At the World Championships in Sofia, he spent some time training on site as the equipment was quite different from what he was used to, with a shorter run-up and a more rigid track. His success right from the start surprised him given that he was one of the youngest competitors.
‘In the qualifying round to get through to the final I ended up in first place,’ he says. ‘The reigning champion from China didn’t qualify, so we all felt that we had a chance.’
The advantage to being in the top spot was that Kristof performed his runs last. He says that he likes this position because he is a tactical competitor and works out the scores he will need as the competition progresses. ‘After my first run I was still the leader so I had the possibility to play safer on the final run,’ he explains. ‘I landed this to finish in first overall and become World Champion in tumbling.’
He is still in shock about his achievement two weeks later. ‘At the time, it was more than I could have dreamed of,’ he says. ‘I never thought that I could win as early as I did. Now that I’m back, I guess that I’ve had lots of work to catch up with and I’ve not had a chance for it to sink in.’
Kristof is as enthusiastic about his studies as he is about his tumbling activities. He says that the first year Biochemistry course was a challenge because it covered such a wide range of subjects. Now that the course has honed in on areas that he is more interested in, he is finding it more satisfying. The lectures on human metabolism in particular, covering topics such as diet and exercise, are great because he can relate what he is learning to personal experience.
After his fourth year, he plans to take a year or two out whilst he can to focus on gymnastics. He may move into floor and vault gymnastics and see whether he can train for the 2020 Olympics. Or he may try and join the Cirque du Soleil which would take him around the world. After that, it will be back into the world of Biochemistry – whilst he is keen on lab work, he would like to see how his fourth year goes before committing to any future career.
With the Christmas vacation coming up, Kristof plans to keep himself occupied with both gymnastics and work. He has been invited to perform at a gymnastics gala in Amsterdam which he says has the advantage of bringing in money as well as providing him with some quiet time to get lots of work done.