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Local champion calls for more recognition in special gymnastics

Local champion calls for more recognition in special gymnastics

Tuesday 06 February 2018

Local champion calls for more recognition in special gymnastics

A ten-time British Disability Gymnastics Champion, who has had to turn to mainstream competitions to win medals, is calling for learning disabilities to be better recognised to allow more athletes to shine in world competitions.

Alex Buesnel, who has autism, won a Silver medal against mainstream athletes at the 2017 Island Games in Gotland but wishes there were more competition opportunities for athletes with learning disabilities.

At just 25-years-old, Alex has an impressive record: he was won the title of British Disability Gymnastics Champion ten years in a row, scooped a Gold medal in the 2011 Special Olympics World Summer Games and several Gold medals in the European and National Special Olympics. Last year, he also made history by becoming the first gymnast with learning difficulties to make Jersey’s Island Games Squad. He later won a Silver medal at the Games. Earlier this year, he received the Michael Lucas Sporting Hero Award at the Channel Islands' Sports Personality of the Year.

But this time, Alex is not battling for more titles but to get his discipline better recognised, wit the help of his dad, Gary. The pair is disappointed that gymnastics are still not included in the Paralympics. Gary explains: "Some people see how well Alex is doing and ask us why he is not competing in the Paralympics. The reason is because gymnastics are not included. When we asked why a couple of years ago, we were told that there wasn't sufficient interest from enough countries and that they couldn't categorise intellectual disability.

"This is almost tantamount to discrimination. It's appalling! They have scales for learning disabilities in other sports but not gymnastics. It's an inclusivity issue, they should come up with a formula and integrate people who have learning as well as physical disabilities." 


Pictured: Alex and his father Gary want gymnastics to be included in the Paralympics.

in addition, Alex and Gary feel that the selection process for the British Gymnastics team for the Special Olympics, the world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, is unfair and does not give the best athletes the opportunity to compete. Gary explains: "It is not first past the post. It is actually very complex with various grades. In gymnastics, there are four levels and Alex is in the best one. But because he competed in the World Games in 2011 in Athens, he hasn't qualified for the World Games next year.

"It is not based on who is the best but on whether are not an athlete has competed before. It is more about participation than elite athlete. It's unfair and a tragedy. If you pay for an event you want to see the best. It gives a false impression of the top of level four and it doesn't do the sport any favour. It's insulting to those who have trained just as hard to be the best." 

The Special Olympics GB team explained that the selection process is based on all abilities and not just learning disabilities. A spokesperson said: "We embrace all abilities ages and backgrounds. We take into account the training history, personal goals as well as travel experience. As much as possible, we also try to spread around the experience of being at the World Games which is not always possible. We try and have a team made up of athletes which is as inclusive as possible. Sometimes we will have athletes who might not be the best in their sport but who have come a long way from where they started."

Alex's gymnastics story started at the age of 11. After he a particular taste for tumbles and rollin-pollies, his mum Sharon took him to the Jersey Special Gymnastic Club. "I never looked back," says Alex. He now trains four times a week for a total of 15 hours. When he was preparing for the Island Games, he trained up to 20 hours a week. But sadly the facilities are not adequate in Jersey. The Special Gymnastic Club trains at Greenfields secure unit. Gary explains: "For the floor exercises, athletes have a 12 by 12 meter zone. We have a one meter wide tumble track. To train for the routines, the athletes have to keep walking forward and backward and then translate it during the competition. It is almost as if their arms were tied behind their backs before they have even started."


Pictured: Alex was named a British Disability Gymnastics Ambassador in 2016.

For Alex, competing at a high level not just about winning medals and titles. Disability Gymnastics Ambassador, he also wants to inspire others to push themselves. He says: "Learning disabilities are hidden but they hinder performances. It's about showing what I can do. You have to show it is possible."

Gary adds: "Gymnastics is a fantastic sport for people with learning disabilities. It is structured and they have to do the routine when told to not when they want to. No one has done more than Alex for Disability Gymnastics. We hope it can break down barriers and pave history. He has a great record for someone who is 25 but the fact he was named an Ambassador shows what a gentleman he has been." 

While competing in the Paralympics would be the icing on the cake for Alex, one for which he would certainly come out of retirement for, he also has plans if that doesn't happen. First and foremost, he will keep promoting Disability Gymnastics. As a qualified level 2 coach, he will also train up and coming gymnasts. "I will always be involved in the club," he admits. 

Meanwhile his dad hopes to see people show more interest for his son's discipline. He says: "When people ask why Alex could not compete with all the other gymnasts at the Olympics. I just want to say 'Let's do away with all the others Paralympic sports and put everyone in the same basket. Would that be fair? I think the real human endeavour is with people who have been a crappy hand and overcame that. Athletes who have trained hard and are very talented are as deserving but for someone who has a lot of setback to come and compete, that is where the human emotions are. That is where you can really connect with someone."

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