Moments after Giarnni Regini-Moran stood atop of the podium in November as Great Britain’s first men’s gymnastics world champion on the floor exercise, he was whisked in front of the cameras and charged with explaining how he felt in the most significant moment of his career. He was not ready. Given all that it had taken for him to reach this point, he needed to fully take in his achievement. “I’ve had time to try and process it, but I can’t process it,” he said, shaking his head.
A month later we convened at his training centre, Pegasus Gymnastics Club near his family home in Kent. Regini-Moran had taken a much-needed holiday and after 18 months of major competitions and exhausting injury rehabilitation programmes, he was at the beginning of a quiet training period. He finally had time to think.
“People ask me: ‘You must be so happy. You must be over the moon, you’re world champion’,” he says. “I think I’m just happy because I’ve done it. Because of what I’ve been through, my journey, my story. I’m just happy because I feel like no matter what now, I’ve completed my story.”
Even compared to most athletes in such a taxing, dangerous sport as gymnastics, Regini-Moran’s path has been brutal. He was the best junior gymnast in Europe and Great Britain’s biggest hope. At the age of 17, he set his sights on the Rio Olympics.
High up on the horizontal bar in June 2016, Regini-Moran was attempting to learn a notoriously difficult release skill, the Kolman, which requires a double back salto over the bar with a full twist before re-grasping the bar. During an attempt, one of his hands missed the bar and he careened straight towards the ground. All of his body weight and force landed on his leg, which met the floor at a bent angle and “snapped” at the knee.
As Regini-Moran was taken to the hospital, the severity of his predicament slowly dawned on him. “It wasn’t till that moment I realised that not only my Olympic dreams were crushed. I was thinking, at that point: ‘My career’s done’. That thought was going through my head like: ‘That’s it. I’m done. I’m gonna have to quit. I’m gonna have to finish.’”
The doctors offered little comfort. Regini-Moran had completely snapped his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL), he had also damaged his anterior collateral ligament (ACL) and medial cruciate ligament (MCL), tore his hamstring and fractured his tibia.
“I could hardly move my legs, it swelled up to like a balloon,” he says. “I was struggling to do just everyday activities, washing myself, getting in the shower, things like that I couldn’t do. I’d have people come in and just help me with everyday life and it really hit me that month that I was rock bottom.”
After his reconstructive knee surgery, from which two screws now sit in a jar at home, and an arduous rehab process, Regini-Moran gradually morphed into a gymnast again. But the mental scars after a major injury can often take far longer to heal, if they ever do. As he neared his return in 2018, Regini-Moran felt off-line in the air during a training vault and instinctively moved to protect his recovered knee. In the process, he shifted his weight on to his opposite leg and fractured his ankle, which required another surgery.
Regini-Moran returned and finally began to make his mark. Three years after his knee injury, he competed at his first World Championships, in 2019, and became an Olympian for the first time in Tokyo. Making such strong teams was an incredible achievement alone but Regini-Moran wasn’t entirely comfortable. Not only did he feel the pressure of those occasions, he was still working through the mental scars from his knee injury
“Obviously I could tumble and in 2019 I competed. But in the routines I avoided certain tumbles because I was scared and I didn’t trust [my knee],” he says. “I didn’t feel safe. I didn’t feel confident. And it wasn’t until the end of 2020 moving into 2021 that I had that confidence and started doing these tumbles again,” he said.
Any satisfaction from reaching the Olympics was fleeting. On his return from Tokyo, Regini-Moran immediately underwent three different surgeries late last year, addressing persistent issues with both of his shoulders and his ankle.
“I really wasn’t sure what was gonna happen and I think the one thing I just said to myself was, ‘I’m gonna try. I’m not gonna give up’. My story, my journey so far, has been proof of me never giving up and continuing to fight for my career. There were days where I was like, ‘Maybe it’s not meant to be.’ And I had days where I’d come into the gym and I’d just be like ‘Why, why me? Why have I got to go through this? Why am I facing all these challenges and these obstacles?’”
After the surgeries last year, Regini-Moran was initially told to forget about recovering in time for the Commonwealth Games in July. During his rehab sessions at Pegasus, there were times when he would sit down on the gym floor and cry. Positive steps forward were invariably followed by difficult setbacks.
“I couldn’t give up because people hadn’t seen the real me,” he says. “They don’t see what I’m like in training. I think the hardest thing is most people, spectators, fans, companies, whoever watches the sport, they only see the end result. They only see the show, the performance. They don’t see me coming in the gym, doing all my rehab, then training, then staying to do extra weights. They don’t see me getting these little issues that no one even knows about. They don’t see me in the gym crying, coming to the gym in pain.
“There were many days where I felt like packing it in and I felt like I just wasn’t going to do it. But there’s just this fight in me that just doesn’t want to give up.”
At the beginning of 2022, Regini-Moran wrote down a list of his goals for the year on a white board. They were relatively modest, hoping to make the team for the major championships and qualifying for the world floor final. He won multiple medals at the Commonwealth Games and European Championships, a step ahead of his goals. Then, as a medal opportunity opened up in the men’s floor final, he completely blew them up. When the moment demanded it of him, he produced one of the best routines of his life to become world champion.
At 24 years old, Regini-Moran’s dreams remain vast. Another World Championships awaits next year and Paris 2024 is slowly moving into view. But after processing and thinking, Regini-Moran’s conclusion is that his ultimate task was to navigate all of the obstacles in his career and triumph at the end. He has already done what he set out to achieve.
“Hopefully, there’s more to add,” he says. “But regardless, everything that I’ve been through was worth the fight, worth the people that’s stuck by my side and believe me, my parents continuing to support me, continuing to sacrifice things for me and continuing to drive me everywhere when I couldn’t drive – all those things.
“There’s so many things that make it worth it. And that’s why I say I feel complete.”