A GYMNAST has been given a hero’s welcome by schoolchildren after winning three gold medals at an international championship.

Children from Brandon Primary School, in Brandon, near Durham, welcomed teaching assistant apprentice Sam Stafford with waving Union Jacks after he returned to class after his success at the Pan American championships.

The 17-year-old, who started an apprenticeship with the school in September, was part of a Team GB squad invited to take part in the event, which was held in Mexico between November 22-24.

He said: “It’s unbelievable. There’s a lot of support from everyone. It means so much to them as well to have a member of staff to get behind.”

Sam, from Sacriston, is a member of Deerness Gymnastics Club, based in nearby Ushaw Moor.

He was joined by Deerness gymnasts Marcus Winship, Jonny Henderson and Aaron Greally, who were competing in the 12-18 team,

Sam added: “It was absolutely brilliant. We were scored a 9.05 out of 10 in artistry which was amazing.

“It was a big challenge.”

He has been doing gymnastics for almost 14 years, training 20 hours a week, and has previously competed in the world championships, British championships and other national events.

He started an 18-month apprenticeship this year and hopes to go on to become a teacher.

He said: “I’m loving it so far. It’s a great workforce and people to be around. There’s a lot of support.”

Yesterday was his first day back after returning from the championships and children at the school had the chance to see his medals, watch his performance and find out more about his experience.

He is also due to give pupils a demonstration to give them the chance to see an international gymnast in action.

Brandon Primary School headteacher Judith Hodgson said: “We’re very proud of Sam. I’ve worked with Sam for a long time because I was his head teacher in Witton Gilbert and now he’s come here as an apprentice.

“I want the children to be proud of him as well and be aware of his achievement.

“The magnitude of it is huge. He’s achieved something for the country and we need to celebrate it and we want the children to be inspired by it as well.”