SOMETIMES, you don’t have to win to create a moment of sporting history. Great Britain claimed 27 gold medals at the Rio Olympics in 2016, yet for many, the most memorable minute-and-a-half of the Games came courtesy of an athlete who left Brazil with a bronze.

Watch Amy Tinkler’s floor routine back now, almost four years after the event, and the hairs on the back of your neck will still stand on end. How could she have been so calm at the age of 16, smiling knowingly at the crowd as her name was announced? How had she learned the balletic flicks and stretches that so impressed the judges? And how on earth could she summon the strength and balance required to execute the springs, twists and somersaults that propelled her to sporting stardom?

We have produced great gymnasts before, not least Max Whitlock, who trumped Tinkler by winning gold on both the floor and pommel in Rio, but there was something about the diminutive teenager from Bishop Auckland that struck a chord with the British public, and resulted in gyms across the country reporting a spike in the number of girls wanting to take up gymnastics in the wake of her Olympic success.

In the nicest possible way, Tinkler broke down barriers because she could have been anyone. She wasn’t born into sporting stardom or groomed at some high-performance centre awash with cash. She wasn’t doing something that was so far out of the ordinary that it was impossible to relate to her efforts. We’ve all been in gyms or tried forward rolls, we just haven’t quite been able to execute them with the same panache.

Tinkler was the girl who turned up at her local gymnastics club wanting to give the sport a go, and a decade or so later, ended up winning an Olympic medal. That she did it with a beaming smile on her face only added to her appeal. That is why yesterday’s announcement that she has been forced to retire at the age of 20 after a succession of serious injury problems was such a blow. Tinkler did so much in her short career, but with better fortune, she could almost certainly have achieved so much more.

It wasn’t always that way of course. Stardom wasn’t exactly preordained when she first attended South Durham Gymnastics Club at the age of two or when, in the ‘Pink gym’ at Spennymoor Leisure Centre that would quickly become her second home, she started doing her first tumble routines. “I think I was four when I started doing that,” she said, at one of our meetings prior to her Olympic success. “I think it was probably three,” chipped in one of her coaches, Rachael Wright.

By the age of five, Tinkler was standing out from her peers at a regional level, and by the time she was entering her teenage years, she was winning national titles.

“It wasn’t that Amy was necessarily the most naturally talented of all the gymnasts we’ve had,” said Wright, which seems remarkable given everything she went on to achieve. “But she was always the most determined to make the most of her talent and it quickly became obvious she had something really special.

“She had a real competitive streak,” added her joint head coach at South Durham, Nicola Preston. “If the girls were collecting stickers, Amy had to have the most.”

At the age of 12, Tinkler was winning the Most Promising Newcomer Award at The Northern Echo’s Local Heroes Awards, and her breakthrough international performance came in 2015 when she was part of the British squad that claimed a team bronze medal at the World Championships in Glasgow.

That proved she could compete with the best, something that was reinforced when she was crowned British all-around champion at the National Championships in 2016. A few months later, she was standing on the podium at Rio.

Much changed after her Olympic success, as her profile soared. She turned on the Christmas lights in Bishop Auckland, something she always maintained was a life highlight. At the other end of the celebrity spectrum, she was one of the stars of the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year awards show at the end of her Olympic year.

She relocated to the South Essex club in Basildon to train with some of her British team-mates, but the ankle injury that would ultimately curtail her career was already playing havoc. Three operations effectively sidelined her for the best part of three years, culminating in yesterday’s difficult decision.

Her legacy is a transformed landscape for women’s sport. “I still can’t really get my head around everything that’s happened,” she admitted in the wake of Rio. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to people knowing who I am. I’ll be walking down the street and someone will come up for a picture, or a mum will come up and ask about the best way for her daughters to get into gymnastics. It’s great, but I don’t think it’s something you ever really get used to.”

Her life changed during those 90 seconds in Rio – and women’s sport in this country changed too.