OLYMPIC medallist Amy Tinkler’s former gymnastics club has hit back at her claims that the gym was a ‘toxic environment’.

The 20-year-old, who retired from the sport in January, has made wide-ranging allegations about mistreatment as a club and elite gymnast.

Coaches Nicola Preston and Rachel Wright from South Durham Gymnastics Club, in Spennymoor – where Tinkler trained from the age of two to 16 – are suspended during an investigation.

In an ITV News interview last week, Tinkler said she lost ‘everything’ and ‘every single friend’ when she left South Durham for South Essex after winning bronze in the Rio 2016 Olympics.

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She said: “At the end of the day I did nothing, I left an environment that was toxic.”

That ‘toxic’ label led to South Durham officials and gymnasts breaking their silence to defend the club, which employs 30 people and has more than 1,000 members.

Chairman Paul Anderson said: “We categorically deny all allegations of abuse or mistreatment and we take very seriously any complaint.

“We have and will continue to fully cooperate with the complaint process.

“We firmly believe that Amy enjoyed her 14 years at the club.

“This is backed up with many kind messages from Amy and her family, especially back in 2016 when the head coaches were thanked for ‘an absolutely amazing incredible journey’.”

He said the club had received more than 120 letters of support since the allegations emerged.

Miss Tinkler has made allegations of weight-shaming at the GB set-up but also spoke of ‘a big turning point’ in her relationship with food during her time at South Durham.

She claims she was told she could not attend an international competition unless she lost weight and was encouraged to lose 2.5kilos in a week when she was just 13.

She described skipping meals and not drinking at school or during training sessions ahead of weekly weigh-ins and said she had to miss school twice a week to train.

But the club has revealed that Miss Tinkler’s own mother, Nora, was an employee and volunteer at the club so present almost every hour she was there.

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Club manager Kelly Milnes said: “Nora was a huge part of the club, it was like a family and she had a lot of influence.

“For me, to suggest her parents had no idea how she was feeling is ludicrous.

“As a parent, I would not bring my child to an environment I felt was toxic.”

“She (Nora) was here almost every hour that Amy was, Amy was here five or six days a week and Nora would only miss one.

“Only the very top ones got weighed and Amy’s mam was the one weighing gymnasts most of the time.

“It was always weight and height that were measured, it was very discreet and was done to monitor health and growth, always to protect the gymnast.

“And the thing about being out of school, one of those sessions was led by her own mother.”

Mrs Milnes said the allegations have been hurtful.

She said: “Amy was special, she really was, and she was treated like this special thing. She was protected and the coaches, especially Nicola and Rachel, put so much in to help her.

“Their families missed out on things so they could work with Amy and everyone was always willing to do it, so it is very hard to be on the receiving end of complaints now.”

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Gymnast-turned-coach Jade Armstrong, 22, said: “I competed for GB alongside Amy, as far as I knew Amy loved coming to the gym. She was here more than at home, there never seemed to be any issues.

“She was so full of talent, she could just get on and do stuff without any struggle.

“These complaints were a shock at first, I didn’t understand where they were coming from. I was upset because it isn’t a very nice thing to hear people say that about a place they grew up in and feel is a safe place.

“As a gymnast I thought everyone was supportive, if something was going wrong every coach, not just Nic and Rach, would try to help. I never felt alone.”

Former teammates of Tinkler said they willingly sacrificed their own opportunities to help her prepare for the Olympics.

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Dena Kirk Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Dena Kirk, 19, of Quarrington Hill, said: “Me and Amy were quite close for a long time, especially on the road to Rio. Everything she’s said about the gym since was never mentioned at the time.

“We were one team, Team Pink, it was somewhere to go and feel comfortable and happy.

“Hearing it called toxic, I was upset and angry, I didn’t know if I was hearing right because that isn’t the same place I was at.”

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Rachael and Leah Rockett Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

And Leah Rockett, 19, of Burnhopefield, said: “This club was like a family, Dena and I missed out on a trial for an international competition because there were no coaches to take us, they were busy with her.

“We were fine with that because we had to share, every gymnast wants to go to the Olympics and she was living that dream. We were going to support her no matter what.”

Leah’s mother, Rachael Rockett said she had complete faith in the club.

“The weighing was not a fat-shaming exercise it was to check they were healthy and there was a very positive reward system, everyone worked towards their own goals and everyone supported and celebrated that,” she said.

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South Durham Gymnastics Club welcome Amy Tinkler back after her 2016 Olympic success Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

Miss Tinkler said: “Because of my, and others, similar complaints about South Durham Gymnastics Club, British Gymnastics and the Local Authority Designated Officer are investigating the club and coaches.

“I continue to participate with the investigation and have been asked not to comment on specifics until a conclusion has been reached.”