Lisa Mason: gymnast, stunt-double and single mother

By Nick HopeBBC Olympic sports reporter
Lisa Mason wins vault gold at English Open

For Olympic champion swimmer Ian Thorpe and boxer Ricky Hatton, who both attempted comebacks in recent years, their ambition was to recapture past glories and perhaps also rediscover the adulation which accompanies it - but Lisa Mason's motivation is more complex.

True, she feels there is "unfinished business" with gymnastics having quit at the age of 18 - shortly after the Sydney 2000 Olympics - but having won a surprise vault gold in her comeback on Saturday, even at 31, Mason feels she can use the sport to help her create a better future for her daughter, Yalarna Elena.

"I absolutely love competing but I'm a single-mum and want to be able to provide a bit more for my child," Mason told BBC Sport.

The Aylesbury-born gymnast decided to attempt a return to the sport after appearing in a demonstration event during last summer's Olympics where she realised she could still complete many of her old routines.

Mason admits to receiving 'basically no support' from her daughter's father and hopes her long-term aim of qualifying for next year's English Commonwealth Games team for Glasgow 2014external-link could release some funding.

With UK Sport athlete personal awards [APA's] typically allocated to those seen as having potential to compete at future Olympics, Mason may need to demonstrate a longevity which would stretch into her mid-thirties, but she insists even a small amount of assistance could make a huge difference.

"At the moment I'm funding myself and my coaches and I don't have any support for physio which at my age I really need," said Mason.

"If I had that [financial support] I wouldn't have all of the additional stress sitting there just worrying how I'm going to pay for the gas and electric this month."

In the years following retirement Mason has qualified as a gymnastics coach, set up her own choreography company and utilised her athletic abilities as a stunt-double for numerous commercials and music videos.

"It isn't as glamorous as it sounds because you are usually in a dusty studio in front of a green screen, but Kasabian and Busted were a few of the fun shoots," said Mason.

"I'm not really into that kind of music and didn't even know Kasabian to be honest but my brother insisted I got their autographs.

"I'm grateful I get to experience things and that I've been able to take my gymnastics and use it in another field."

It is through work like that which has allowed Mason to retain the movements which have facilitated her comeback.

Three-time world champion Beth Tweddle, who was 28 at the time of winning London Olympic bronze, is an athlete who has seemingly defied the ageing process for many years.

Her long-term coach Amanda Reddin, who now heads up the British Gymnastics women's programme, believes Mason is being "very brave" by returning to the sport but says although it will be difficult gaining a place in the national setup it is not impossible.

"It's a very very big ask," Reddin told BBC Sport.

"It's not necessarily that you lose the skills as a gymnast. You will always have the skills in your head. It's whether the body can keep going with everyday training - it's that which makes the body hurt.

"If she wants to do more apparatus, that will give her more chance to try and get in any of the team," Reddin continued. "It'll be hard but there is always space for a super-specialist."

Mason is currently focusing on the beam and vault apparatus but craves a return to the floor which she is aiming to perfect over the coming months.

It is difficult to judge just how successful Mason could potentially be in her second career as a gymnast, but she was told last summer that her beam routine from the Sydney Games, where she was the reserve for the final, would have potentially been strong enough to put her on the podium in London.

Furthermore, although traditionally viewed as a sport for those in their teens and twenties, there are those who have excelled into their late thirties.

In London, 37-year-old Oksana Chusovitina of Germany was the oldest female gymnast and the former Olympic champion finished fifth in the vault, whilst in the men's competition Bulgaria's Jordan Jovtchev, 39 at the time, reached the still rings final.

"It's difficult to compare," admitted Mason.

"What I have achieved so far, everyone thought was impossible so I am pleased that I've gone beyond my expectations."

The gymnast continued: "I just want my daughter to be really proud and look at what I do and realise that just because society says that your a certain age and can't do things it doesn't mean that you can't.

"All I have to do now is continue training and working hard, stay consistent and hope I stay injury free."

Her next competition will be the British Championships, 22-24 March in Liverpool,external-link which will present athletes with their final opportunity to gain selection for April's European Championships in Moscow.external-link