Injury heartbreak and social upheaval seemed a world away when Amy Tinkler danced her way to an unexpected Rio Olympics bronze medal aged just 16.
As the youngest member of the 366-strong Great Britain team in 2016, Tinkler’s podium in the women’s floor competition alongside its imperious champion Simone Biles earned plaudits and the promise of a bright and high-profile future.
Instead, Tinkler’s post-Rio career was overshadowed by a difficult departure from her childhood club in Spennymoor, and a trio of ankle surgeries which left her seriously questioning whether she would return to the top level of her sport.
Only now – with the Tokyo Olympics looming and her first tumble in 12 months successfully executed at the national training centre in Lilleshall last week – is Tinkler able to reflect on her turbulent recent past and plan for brighter times ahead.
“After everything I’ve been through, what happened in Rio doesn’t really seem real and I don’t think it ever will,” the 19-year-old told Press Association Sport.
“It hasn’t been an easy road at all. It’s exactly a year since I got injured and I needed three surgeries before my problem was found.
“Every gymnast goes through tough times and there is always the question of whether it’s worth it. But when you do your first tumble in a year, you realise that everything you’ve gone through is going to be worth it.”
Tinkler had returned from Rio to a rainy open-topped bus parade around her hometown, but her subsequent decision to relocate to south Essex caused issues with some members of her former south Durham club which had nurtured her from the age of five.
Her profile as a key figure in the post-Rio British gymnastics boom remained high but her injury, when she tore ankle ligaments in the warm-up for a World Cup event in Birmingham, thrust her into a frustrating rehabilitation process from which she is only now beginning to emerge.
“Coming back from Rio wasn’t the easiest of times,” admitted Tinkler. “I had such an incredible experience out there but things didn’t turn out as I had expected.
“I made the decision to move clubs to Essex and they supported me and gave me my confidence and my voice back.
“The injury was obviously awful but the knowledge that I’d won a medal at such a young age, and the memory of the whole Olympic experience, kept me going.”
Tinkler returned just seven weeks after her first surgery to finish 17th in the all-around final at the World Championships in Montreal in 2017, before further complications sidelined her again
Now Tinkler, who will be reunited with Biles on Saturday on the judging panel for the ‘Superstars of Gymnastics’ event at London’s O2 Arena, has a clear vision of the kind of future she ought to have experienced after her remarkable success in Brazil.
“Ever since Rio I’ve known that I don’t just want to go to one Olympics,” she added. “Rio was incredible but I imagine Tokyo is going to be 10 times better, and the thought of being there with the rest of the team is the thing that is driving me on.”