ESPRIT’S Laura Halford is hoping to add ‘the most coveted prize of the year’ to her collection when she competes at the British Rhythmic Championships in Stoke-on-Trent.

The Cricklade gymnast finished runner-up in last year’s competition but with reigning champion Francesca Jones taking a break from competition, Halford is among the names hotly-tipped for the title at Fenton Manor.

The championships begin today but Halford does not get under way until tomorrow, when she performs hoop, ball, ribbon and clubs routines in an effort to make Sunday’s final, for which six gymnasts will qualify.

The 17-year-old Commonwealth Games hopeful secured gold in the Welsh Championships last weekend, but she believes that the British title would trump that and indeed any other event in 2013.

She said: “It was a big confidence boost for me to win the Welsh Championships.

“That was the biggest competition of the year up until that point and I did make a few mistakes in my routine, but at the end there was a 9.4-point lead between me and second place. I think that’s a positive in itself.

“I’m really confident at the moment and my training has been going really well.

“I get most excited for the British Championships because it’s the biggest competition of the year. It’s definitely the most coveted prize of the year so I’m really excited to compete.

“I love to win and I really hope I do, but really I just want to enjoy the competition before I think about winning. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself and end up crumbling.”

Halford was forced to adopt a brand new set of routines at the beginning of the year following rule changes in the sport, and although the teenager might not be completely comfortable with them just yet, she feels they have improved in the last few months.

“My routines are still kind of new even though it’s June,” she said.

“We had to change them all at the start of the year as the rules changed, so I’m maybe not as confident as I have been in the past.

“But I’ve done quite a few competitions since the start of the year so I feel more comfortable with them than I did then.”

With Jones absent, Halford feels that her main competition will come from clubmate Steph Sherlock, who won the English Championships last weekend.

Sherlock finished fourth in the British Championships last year and her and Halford have a long but friendly rivalry.

“Steph Sherlock is one of my teammates and I think that’s a good thing because it keeps us both on our toes,” said Halford.

“She also competes for Great Britain like me and I think it will be a battle between us.”

Also competing in the seniors for Esprit at Fenton Manor this weekend will be Maya Lucas, while three gymnasts go in the juniors, who are English junior champion Tyler Brumitt, Ellie Morse and Katy Coleman.

Esprit coach Deb Hows said: “We’ve had a good preparation for the competition and all the junior and senior gymnasts have worked really hard.

“It’s nice to go into the senior competition with the English and Welsh champions and we’ll just have to see what happens - you never know what will happen until it’s done.”