On balance a remarkable achievement, six sports acrobats from the same Co Durham centre head for the senior World Gymnastic Games in Japan later this month.

Two are just 14, the oldest 19. The accolade marks the end of 18 years "massive struggle" for Karl Wharton, their coach.

Karl, based at Deerness Valley comprehensive school in Ushaw Moor, has just been appointed a full time national coach - and the school gym given "world high performance" status - after a working lifetime juggling full time teaching with voluntary coaching.

When last we wrote of the Deerness Valley centre, in 1995, the headmaster had officially described facilities as "unacceptable and improbable" but admitted that what he wanted to say was that they were crap.

Now they're much improved; an announcement in September may further enhance provision in the area.

In that time Karl, 38, has coached 30 world and European medallists, developed his own coaching squad and even learned to speak Russian, so that he can talk with the world's top experts in his sport.

"We've had a lot of support from the school," he says, but - pushed to be a little less modest - suggests that if he has a special ability it's in making people believe that they can achieve something.

Deerness Valley provides the British men's "four" and the "pair" - two of the five disciplines at the games. "Basically it's about using your partner as the apparatus rather than the equipment," says Karl. "What Olga Korbut did on the beam, we do on other people."

The "four" are 18-year-old Barry Hindson from Belmont, Durham, Scott Patterson and Stuart McKenzie, both 17 and from Brandon, and 14-year-old David Scott from Washington.

Carl Morritt, 19, from Ushaw Moor and 14-year-old Chris Jones from Framwellgate Moor combine as the pair.

"Top six would be brilliant, a medal phenomenal," says the coach - turning somersaults, no doubt.