WORLD champion gymnast Beth Tweddle will be able to call on the help of a couple of Olympic stalwarts as she builds up to next year's Games in Beijing, writes DAVID TRIGGS.

The 22-year-old from Bunbury has been selected for an 18-month programme designed to increase Britain's chances of medal success.

The 16 athletes in the scheme, known as Team Visa, have been divided into 'Hopefuls' - whose hopes are initially centred on the 2008 Olympics - and 'Apprentices' with their eyes on the 2012 London Olympics.

Beth has seen selected as a 'Hopeful', enabling her to seek advice from Sir Steve Redgrave and Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson as well as receive financial help towards training costs.

As part of the Team Visa scheme, Beth has also been assigned a buddy from the 'Apprentices' - Leeds-based rising badminton star Gabby White.

Beth, who started her career at Crewe and Nantwich Gym Club, failed to win a medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, but will be one of the leading contenders in Beijing providing she remains injury-free.

The Beijing Games represent her last hope of capturing an elusive Olympic medal because, as Beth confirmed last week, she plans to bow out of competitive gymnastics in 2009.

The 2006 world uneven bars champ said: 'I'm looking at competing at Beijing next year and the World Championships in London in 2009 will hopefully be the perfect way to retire.'

Since leaving school, 'Tweddle the Medal' has combined a 40-hour training week with studying for a Sports Science degree at John Moores University in Liverpool, which she completed last month.

'Everything I do now revolves around gymnastics, but by 2009 I should be able to live the normal student life,' said Beth, who plans to study further to be a physiotherapist.

Looking towards her retirement, she added: 'I think I'll get bored, to be honest. I might take up swimming to keep myself fit. To go from hours of training a day to nothing would be too much.

'I wouldn't say I've missed out on my youth, though. My coach realises gymnastics can't be my entire life. When I was training for the 2004 Olympics I found it really hard with no school and only gymnastics in my life.

'You have to switch off otherwise you don't refresh yourself and you go back in the gym drained. Shopping with my friends is my big way of relaxing and I also like going to the cinema and going out on the town with my friends.'