AMY TINKLER has enjoyed some unforgettable experiences in the wake of her bronze-medal success at last year’s Rio Olympics. There was an appearance at the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year Awards, a flood of adoring fans mobbing her for autographs at a sold-out gymnastics event at London’s O2 Arena and an invite to turn on the Christmas lights in her native Bishop Auckland. She also swept the board at The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes Awards.

As one of the poster girls for British gymnastics, the 17-year-old is a bona fide celebrity, even if she still can’t quite get her head around being recognised as she queues up at the tills at the supermarket.

Of all the life-changing things she has experienced though, nothing quite matches the chance encounter that stopped her in her tracks during this month’s World Championships in Canada. Waiting for the lift in her hotel in Montreal, Tinkler was approached by a middle-aged woman. That woman was Nadia Comaneci, widely acknowledged to be the greatest gymnast of all time.

Forty-one years earlier, in the same Olympic Stadium venue that saw Tinkler compete in the all-around final in the World Championships at the weekend, Comaneci scored a perfect ten as she claimed the Olympic title. To Tinkler’s disbelief, however, it was the Romanian legend who was indulging in a bit of star spotting.

“I was in the lift going to breakfast, and Nadia Comaneci got in,” said Tinkler. “We were chatting away and it was just incredible to think she knew who I was.

“She has been such a massive part of my gymnastics life - I used to watch all her videos on YouTube, and the only other time I've seen her was two years ago when I was just happy to get a picture.

“I'm at this point now where I'm getting recognised in the street, and where my idols are turning into my rivals. It all feels pretty crazy, but the fame thing is not something I would ever turn down.”

Fittingly, for a gymnast, Tinkler’s life has always been something of a balancing act. Juggling the demands of training, school and something resembling a normal social life for a teenager has always been a challenge, but the last 12 months have arguably been more difficult than ever.

At the start of the year, she made the difficult decision to relocate from County Durham, and her former base at South Durham Gymnastics Club, to a new club based in South Essex.

She continues to study for A-levels in PE, psychology and business, following a distance-learning programme arranged by Durham High School for Girls, and has spent most of this season battling against injury.

A long-standing ankle problem required surgery, and she was still hobbling around on crutches a couple of months ago. With that in mind, simply appearing at the Worlds was something of an achievement, and while finishing 17th in the all-around final was not what she would have envisaged in the immediate aftermath of her medal success in Rio, it still represented a decent enough showing given her truncated training schedule.

It would have been even better had she not erred on her final piece of apparatus, the uneven bars, but her return to the world stage has still set her up nicely for a big 2018 that should see her compete in the Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast and the inaugural multi-sport European Championships, that will feature gymnastics events in Glasgow.

“I’m disappointed with the way it (the Worlds) finished, but I was buzzing with the way I performed on the other pieces of apparatus and I know I can take a lot of things out of this for the future,” said Tinkler.

“I’d had a really difficult build-up this year and it's not great to go into a World Championships after just seven weeks of training, so really I should be glad that I've managed to make it here at all.

“But it was important for me to be here and try to reach the final after winning my bronze medal in Rio. I know there are a lot of things I can improve on so that gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

Tinkler’s routine in Rio was one of the highlights of the Games, with the effervescent 16-year-old bouncing and somersaulting her way to a medal despite being the youngest competitor on the whole of Team GB.

Her carefree personality won her a legion of admirers, but she has subsequently admitted she was already suffering from the ankle problem that was eventually rectified this spring.

There had been sporadic bouts of pain for the best part of two years, so with the issue now addressed, it is conceivable that a fully-fit Tinkler could take some major steps forward in the build-up to the next Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

“It was an ongoing problem for two years,” she said. “My coach said, ‘Why are we messing about here? Get it sorted out’. So I had an operation. It turns out there were a couple of pieces of floating bone in my ankle. The keyhole surgery went in and took them out. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was niggling me for a couple of years.”