Number one – Louis Smith, Next promo, GQ, 2012

Number one – Louis Smith, Next promo, GQ, 2012


Louis Smith and Next have joined forces to make their mark on London 2012. As Smith focuses on taking gold at the pommel horse, Next, the official clothing supplier to the Olympic and Paralympic Games, will be in close proximity to provide the Team GB gymnast – and six other British hopefuls – with sharp suits and eveningwear befitting world-class sporting heroes

[At the time of writing, the London Olympics was ten years ago. Ten??? At GQ, we went big on an Olympics preview and even on the commercial side there were possible medallists to interview. Next was doing the official suits of Team GB and I was given Louis Smith’s phone number for an interview. He was having his hair done.]

GQ promo, 2012

Vzzz… vzzz… vzzzzzzzz. It’s 4pm, break time for Olympic pommel horse bronze medallist Louis Smith, an ideal opportunity for the 23-year-old gymnast to escape the rigorous routine of his Shropshire training base and find solace in the skills of the nearest hairdresser. Louis is having his back and sides defined courtesy of the clippers’ grade-one setting. Vzzz… vzzz. “A haircut and interview at the same time,” Louis shouts above the buzzing. “You multitask in this game.”

With the Olympics edging closer and the small matter of the Men’s Gymnastics European Championship in Montpellier a few weeks before, Louis’ schedule is understandably tight. To keep up, his training is planned meticulously by a fitness support unit. He works out most days from 12pm-3.30pm and 5.30pm-8pm. “The training sounds tough but I’m used to it now,” Louis says. “The trick is keeping rigidly to the routine. When you start changing things, that’s when problems develop.”

The business plan is working. Louis is Britains finest ever practitioner of the pommel horse and the first British gymnastics Olympic medal winner since Birmingham’s Walter Tysall scooped silver in the 1908 Games – held in London. The pommel horse, originally an apparatus for teaching soldiers how to mount and dismount a nag, is a foam rubber- and leather-covered apparatus topped with two plastic handles (pommels). The pommel horse is a gymnastics routine that has audiences spellbound, as competitors complete leg swings, circles, moores, swindles, kehrswings and wendeswings in a mesmerising show of upper-body might and arm strength. “I try to make it look easy for the television audience,” Louis jokes, “but it’s trickier than it seems.”

Louis’ inclusion in Team GB should be a formality, barring injury, but he’s already made the grade for Team Next, a line-up of London 2012 hopefuls that includes rower Andy Triggs Hodge, marathon swimmer Keri-Anne Payne, synchronised swimmer Jenna Randall, fencer Laurence Halsted, para-equestrian Lee Pearson and cyclist Shanaze Reade. “Next were keen to meet me and came forward,” Louis reveals, “They’re kitting me out with suits and tuxedos, which will hopefully come in handy after the events.”

The Peterborough gymnast’s record on the pommel horse is already impressive, with gold in the Commonwealth Games in 2006, plus a silver in the World Championship of 2010 and a bronze at last year’s meet in Tokyo. “I think the past medals have helped my preparation for London,” Louis says. “I now know what to do and what it’s all about. I’ve made plenty of mistakes since the bronze in Beijing but I’m constantly learning and I’m a better athlete for it.”

The final places for Team GB’s gymnastics squad will be announced on 4 July, and Louis, if chosen, will take up residence in the Olympic village in Greenwich a week prior to pommel horse qualifying, which starts 28 July. “There’s staggering interest in this year’s Olympics,” Louis adds. “London is definitely the place to be this summer – it’s like there’s an Olympic fever. I was in Beijing in 2008 and everyone there was talking about the Games, like taxi drivers, roadworkers, people on the street… and London is even more crazy. The athletes know that every event will be at full capacity. Tickets are gold dust, like Willy Wonka’s golden tickets. It will be unbelievable.”

Without the energy-zapping effects of jetlag that can hamper performances on faraway competitions, Louis will be in prime condition to take gold on pommel horse final day – 5 August. Official Next formalwear will be an ideal accompaniment for a civic reception following an open-top bus parade of Peterborough city centre. “I’m trying not to think too much about medals,” Louis says. “I just need to control what I do, and keep to the routine. But yes, an open-top bus would be fun, but that’s for someone else to sort out – no way am I making that call.” (The city council should be aware that three local companies operate such vehicles.)

For now, Next is completing its obligation to clothe all 4,500 technical officials at London 2012, while a comprehensive range of Olympic-inspired clothing and accessories is now available online. As for Louis’ haircut… vzzz… vzzz… All done; sharp, sleek and ready to conquer the world.

Louis Smith
Age 23 Height 5’10” Artistic gymnastics (pommel horse) Medal record Olympics, bronze (2008); World Championships, bronze (2007), silver (2010), bronze (2011); European Championships, silver (2009); two silvers (2010); Commonwealth Games (competing for England), gold, bronze (2006)