For Hawke's Bay gymnast Laura Johnson it's been an acrobatic hands-and-feet journey of pain and gain but that hasn't stopped her from tumbling her way to golden glory.

Johnson returned with a gold medal from the four-day New Zealand Gymnastics Championship which ended in Tauranga last Saturday.

"It was easier on my body and less demanding," says the 16-year-old from Haumoana who switched to tumbling from artistic gymnastics — vault, bar, beam and floor — in only May this year.

Johnson, who was among six other Omni Gymnastics Centre members who returned with seven golds, three silvers and two bronzes, had accepted the advice of coach Dale Coffey.


"I thought it was a good idea because I could still be involved with gymnastics," she says, enjoying an injury-free spell but took an elbow injury to the nationals.

The Havelock North High School Year 11 pupil, who had stress fractures in both her wrists at separate times last year, used to flirt with tumbling before that. She was at her sixth nationals and her only other gold came in level six vault at the nationals in Napier in 2013.

Nevertheless, it wasn't easy making the switch from her artistic passion but while tumbling has alleviated the pain there's the agony of knowing that the latter isn't an Olympic sport.

"I'll take it to next year and see how it goes," says the former Haumoana Primary School and Havelock North Intermediate pupil whose mother Cheryl got her into the sport from 3.

For now, the teenager is making the most of the 25m tumbling track, eclipsing the field of 12 other rivals by three points in the 15- to 16-year female category at the ASB Baypark Arena.

Her routine included "voluntary pass", which entails a round off whip back, whip back, whip back with full-twisting lay up, and a "compulsory pass" to the tune of a round off flick flack before finishing with the voluntary pass again in a top-eight final.

She is indebted to her main coach, Jane Sheldrake, of Napier.

Sam Alexander says his hand placement and the air between the legs and the pommel horse gave him the advantage over rivals to clinch gold medal in Tauranga. Photo/file
Sam Alexander says his hand placement and the air between the legs and the pommel horse gave him the advantage over rivals to clinch gold medal in Tauranga. Photo/file

Sam Alexander, of Puketapu, claimed gold in level 5 pommel horse, his first in three nationals but it came as a surprise on day one on Thursday.

"I only found out I got gold when it was prizegiving time," Alexander revealed, after the electronic scoreboard had a hiccup while he was still on an apparatus.

"When they finally got it running my score had already been and I hadn't seen it," he says with a laugh, disclosing he had momentarily anticipated another nationals devoid of medals.

Alexander, who also competed in the rings, vault, parallel bars, floor and high bars, says it's really rewarding to be first in a field of 13.

"I had only won a certificate before that in vaults last year," says the 14-year-old from Lindisfarne College in Hastings.

The Year 9 pupil, who enjoys floor and vault in five years of belonging to Omni centre, wishes he had claimed medals in parallel bars and vault.

"I'm trying to get higher and higher and make it to the top to be one of the best gymnasts," says Alexander, who harbours Olympic ambitions and salutes coach Jo Cox.

He attributes his success to a smooth routine, placement of hands and giving lots of air between his legs and the pommel horse.

Thomas Dew clinched gold with a first overall performance in level nine.

Dew was first on the floor, vault and parallel bars as well as third in the rings.

The 19-year-old Eastern Institute of Technology student trains with national representatives and hopes to break into the international ranks next year.

Dew scooped trophies for MAG levels Gymnast of the Year, MAG Gymnast of the Competition and MAG Highest Contribution to the Transtasman Challenge.

The bling blitz leaves Omni centre manager Tania Gavilan pleasantly surprised.

"It was an awesome display right across the board by the Omni reps in the HBPB region