Walking out to compete for Team Wales at the Commonwealth Games was Jacob Edwards’ dream from the age of seven or eight years of age.
He wanted to follow in the footsteps of older brother Matthew Hennessey, who went to the Delhi Games as part of the men’s artistic team in 2010.
Last Friday, 19-year-old Jacob from Wrexham realised that dream when he took to the podium at Arena Birmingham for the start of the artistic gymnastics competition at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
Getting there wasn’t all plain sailing – but he’d made it.
Edwards and his Wales teammates ended in sixth place but more than played their part in a quite absorbing Team final.
Meanwhile despite finishing with a good enough score in individual qualification, he had looked to have narrowly missed out on a place in the all-around final due to the two gymnast per country rule. Joe Cemlyn-Jones and Josh Cook had been the top placed Welsh gymnasts in the top 18.
However the late injury withdrawal of Joe handed Jacob a starting berth for the final.
And he certainly grasped the opportunity, looking confident from the outset and going on to put a total of 76.900 on the scoreboard across his six pieces of apparatus to finish in 10th place.
Reflecting on his first Commonwealth Games experience at Birmingham 2022, Jacob said: “I’ll be honest, I was very emotional walking out on Friday [for the Team Final and individual qualification] and I almost shed a tear.
“When it was pitch black in the Arena, you’re walking out and you can see all the crowd, it was very surreal and as soon as we were up on that podium and our names were being called, Team Wales, it was goosebumps.
“I felt very proud but was very nervous. But as soon as that first routine was out of the way, we were steamrolling through.”
Looking back on the Team final, he said: “Obviously we came in with high expectations; we’re very disappointed that we haven’t medalled but we’re all really happy with how we’ve done as a team.
“The way we’ve come on together, the bond we’ve got, how we perform; we went out there and had fun and that’s all the matters.
“It’s the experience that you take away from it, it was just great.”
Jacob admitted it was a shock to hear about his late addition to individual all-around final but also ultimately meant he had nothing to lose as he walked back out on to the competition floor.
He said: “100 per cent. There was no pressure on me at all. I just went out there to enjoy it.
“After the Team final, I’d sort of prepared myself mentally that I was done, so it was a bit of a shock to the system getting that phone call to say Joe was being withdrawn for the final; it was big news and my heart started going straight away.
“Obviously I really hope that Joe recovers quick and is back out there as soon as he can because he’s a great gymnast and a great guy.
“I set myself the challenge going in that I had no pressure at all so let’s just aim for top 10 and it has paid off – as I’ve come 10th at the Commonwealth Games
“Overall I’m really pleased with how we’ve done and having the opportunity for my dad to take me round [in the all-around final] was amazing.”
The Road to the Games wasn’t without its diversions though for Jacob.
He had, by own admission, a tough first day at the Welsh Artistic Championships in Cardiff at the end of February, which led to him missing out on qualification for the Artistic British Championships.
It’s that weekend in February that he says proved to be the turning point.
Jacob went on compete at the British in Liverpool at the end of March, but as a guest, as part of a Commonwealth trial. A total score of 76.864 would have seen him finish 11th in the men’s all-around competition had he been competing in it.
He would then go on to pull a personal best all-around score out of the bag at the British Club Team Championships in June
He was back in business.
“The Welsh Championships wasn’t my best performance,” he recalls. “I think I had a very tough day; it’s one of those days where you walk in and nothing goes right and that was the kick up the backside really.
“That was the turning point for me. If you’d have told me I’d have come top 10 in the Commonwealths after my performance at the Welsh I’d have said ‘no way, no chance’.
“Definitely after the Welsh it was get my head down, focus, it was a complete turning point for me and made me work harder.
“I then would have come 11th at the British had I been part of it and then to score 78.400 in the British Teams which is my personal best and then to get selected for the Games, it all just kept going up and up.
“My performance here at the Commonwealth is all down to the Welsh.”
Although the artistic competition at these Games is over, it won’t be long before Jacob is back in Birmingham.
He’ll be moving to city as he embarks on a sports journalism degree course at Birmingham City University while is also moving clubs to train alongside some of the top gymnasts in Great Britain at the City of Birmingham club.
He also has one eye on 2026. “Hopefully I’ll see a big lot of progress over the next three years,” added Jacob.
“And then the aim for the next Commonwealths is to hopefully bring home some medals – 100 per cent.”