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Wednesday, 5 June, 2002, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK

Rizzo ready for time at the bar

Philippe Rizzo insists he took up gymnastics when he was born.

The 21-year-old darling of the national side already had the sport in his blood.

His father represented France at the sport while his brother Blaise won the Australian all-around title in 1986 and 1988.

Being born into such a family and, with his dad owning and running a gymnasium in Sydney, he literally fell into it.

Rizzo told BBC Sport Online: "I pretty much took up gymnastics when I was born and I was always around the gym from day one. The gym was my backyard."

"I knew I'd never make big bucks doing this and, if that's all you're aiming for, then I think it's wrong"
Philippe Rizzo

The headstart seems to have held him in good stead. He finished 29th in the all-around at the Sydney Olympics - the highest ever finish in the history of Australian men's gymnastics.

And last year he became the first gymnast to be named the Australian Institute's athlete of the year.

The secret of his success is simple.

"I've always been very competitive not just against my brothers but against anyone and for as long as I can remember," he said.

The next target is the Commonwealth Games, where he is pushing for gold on the horizontal bar and pommel horse and in the all-around.

"I've just got to go out there, do my routine and hope it's good enough for the judges," he said frankly. "And I'd far rather be happy with that routine than to fall off and still win.

A fall remains a very real threat for Rizzo who, following a change in international guidelines, has had to adapt his routines for the Games.

Rizzo factfile
DOB: 9/2/81
Base: Canberra
Coach: Vladimir Vatkin
Likeliest gold: Horizontal bars

He used a competition in Canada back in May to craft his new technique for the first time.

And he revealed: "It didn't go all that well but it's best to be debuting a new routine in that than in the Games. It shouldn't be a problem by the time I arrive in Manchester."

Rizzo's training will be based at the Australian Institute of Sport for much of the Games build-up.

He freely admits that he relishes living and working alongside all different kinds of sportsmen and women.

"We have a dining hall and it's a good opportunity to take about our worries and concerns and compare notes," he added.

"Some are the same and some are completely. But one thing I have noticed is that athletes in other sports are all pretty tall."

He joked: "We're all a bit small and end up last in the queue for meals."

Money motivation

With his board and lodging paid for by the Institute, Rizzo admits he neither has it "very easy or very hard" compared to his fellow athletes across the world.

But money has never been his major drive for taking up gymnastics.

"I knew I'd never make big bucks doing this and, if that's all you're aiming for, then I think it's the wrong kind of motivation," he warned.

As a 21-year-old, he is yet to reach his peak and a long way off retiring.

And when he does, he looks set to follow in his father's footsteps.

"Coaching or being involved in the sport in some way would be ideal," he said, "but I'm not ready to think about that quite yet."


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