His return over the past six months may have gone slightly under the radar – but Benji Eyre is back.
The 22-year-old men’s artistic gymnast was a member of Team Wales in Australia in 2018 and now he’s got a second Commonwealth Games firmly in his sights.
Following the massive high of competing at Gold Coast, Benjamin – or Benji – then went off to Loughborough University to study Economics with Geography in September 2018.
He kept ticking over in the gym, but it was then he knocked the intensity down a notch in terms of training and competing, having decided to take a gap year from his studies to fully focus on his gymnastics and making the plane to Australia the year before.
“I was always going to carry on gymnastics at university, but obviously it’s quite hard to balance high-level gymnastics while also being at university,” he explained.
“I also wanted to immerse myself in the experience of university and take opportunities outside of gymnastics as well, because I think that’s important.
“Loughborough have got a really good set-up, so I was still going in pretty much every day in my first year, doing a few apparatus but nothing really intense.
“For the first term of the second year, I did the same and then I was building up to be up at the Welsh and British Championships just before the first lockdown happened.
“I started training again in April this year and since then I’ve been focussing on gymnastics, training a lot and really getting my head down, preparing myself for the first trial which was at the British Championships last month.”
Benji’s appearance at last month’s Men’s British Championships in Cardiff was his first competition since 2019.
Originally from Huntingdon, where he also started as a gymnast aged six, Benji splits his time between home in nearby St Ives in Cambridgeshire and university in Loughborough during term time.
Benji qualifies for Wales through his Welsh father Simon Eyre, who is originally from Pontyclun – who also played amateur football in the Rhondda League.
As a junior gymnast, Benji was a multiple Welsh champion through the age groups while has also gone on to represent Wales internationally. In 2017, he was part of the Wales men’s team who won a silver medal at the Northern European Championships in the Faroe Islands.
He is a former Men’s London Open bronze medallist (2016) and now competes for Loughborough Students while, when back there, still trains at home club Huntingdon with coach Ben Howells.
Benji’s return to competition at the British has also given him a real shot of making the team for next year’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and, having been added to the long list, will now bid for a place along with Wales’ other men’s artistic hopefuls.
“I always had it in my mind but I haven’t put too much pressure on it,” continued Benji, referring to Birmingham 2022.
“Since April when everything opened back up, it has been good to have that purpose of ‘oh, I’ve got a competition, let’s just work towards it’ and, week by week, I’ve been seeing improvements.
“I’ve really found my passion for it again; I’m working hard and enjoying it.
“Over the summer I was training twice a day in Huntingdon so all my preparation for the British was done there.
“I didn’t expect too much from it because it was my first competition in like two years; it was quite strange being back competing and doing routines in a pressure environment.
“But it was also a really good experience and I was happy with some of my routines, with some areas for me to improve on as well.”
He is now hoping to earn selection for what would be his fourth Northern Europeans in Cardiff next month in what is also a big six months ahead between now and the end of March for those men’s artistic gymnasts looking to secure their place on Team Wales for Birmingham.
Should he ultimately go on to achieve that, it would certainly mean a lot to him.
“It would because of what’s happened and where I’ve come from,” he added.
“I think because I haven’t been involved and around the Welsh set-up for the last couple of years, maybe some people didn’t expect me to be at the level I am at right now.
“But being back involved has given me a lot of confidence.
“To get to the standard I am now from April is quite an achievement and I think that’s why it would mean a lot.”