Notts gymnast Ellie Downie has had an unbelievable start to her senior career throughout 2015, and joins the exclusive list of Beth Tweddle, Claudia Fragapane, and of course sister Becky, as the only British WAG gymnasts to hold European and world medals. She talks to British Gymnewstics about her junior career, her first year as a senior, and of course growing up with a sibling who was already an Olympian as she was just starting to compete in the age group system.
Ellie competing in the 2015 world floor final
Hi Ellie, first of all, congratulations on an amazing first year as a senior. European and world bronze medalist, two European, and two world finals.
Going back to your junior career, you have been in national squad from as early as it is possible to be, and are the most successful junior to come out of great Britain so far with a full set of junior European medals, and four Youth Olympic Games medals. Obviously this is an huge achievement, were you aware of quite how well you had done in comparison to gymnasts that had come before you?
Hmm well I was obviously aware that I had done well in my junior career, but didn’t realise I was one of the most successful juniors to come out of GB until it all happened.
Did you feel any extra pressure to produce results coming into your senior year?
A little bit but not too much because as a first year senior, you haven’t got anything to lose, you just have to do your best and try and get on to as many teams as you can, and then just go out there and do the best you can & to try and get your name out there in the gymnastics world.
You have been part of a hugely talented generation of gymnasts coming through the age group levels, then Espoir and Junior ranks. Has it helped motivate you having such strong competition as Amy, Catherine, Teal and Tyesha to compete against as you’ve grown up?
Yes definitely because it’s natural that you always want to be better than your competitors in any sport, so having such a talented age group of girls definitely pushes you more because you know that you have to keep on pushing to get the best results.
Which moments as a junior really stand out for you? What are you most proud of?
Definitely the Junior Euros because we did so well as a team, then to go on and win a AA bronze & then to get Gold on vault a few days later was incredible. For the seniors doing so well as well, it was one of the best weeks and competitions I’ve ever had!
You have been in the first generation of British gymnasts to grow up in the spotlight of the internet, with people world wide seeing your routines, results, success and disappointments from when you were very young. Can you talk a little about what this has been like for you? How much attention do you pay to things that are written about you? Have you ever been upset or frustrated by something someone has stated as fact, something hurtful, or speculation, that you know is completely untrue?
Well luckily so far I haven’t had anything written about me that’s really frustrated me or upset me, but I have seen it happen to other gymnasts which I can imagine it to be quite hard to deal with. I try (especially during a major competition) not to read blogs because someone could have a bad opinion about one of your performances that your actually thought was good and could change your mind set going into your next competition. Even though it’s tempting to look and see what people think of you, it’s better not to.
Coming back to 2015, can you talk a little about where you were at the beginning of the year, you didn’t compete on vault, at the English, and didn’t tumble full difficulty on floor. You did compete AA at the British a few weeks later, then obviously were in great shape for Europeans in April. Were you recovering from injury at that time, have you had further injuries to deal with through the year?
Well at the end of 2014 (October) I had a small surgery on my ankle just keep it from being sore in the future. This was probably the most major thing I’ve had done in my career so far (touch wood!), so I was a learning experience. We made some mistakes as in pushing to get back a bit earlier than expected, so some days I could train and other days I couldn’t do anything. For the English I competed a watered down floor routine and no vault, just because the ankle wasn’t ready and I hadn’t done enough training to compete all 4. I got in some more numbers of routines to be fit enough for the British champs 2 weeks later, still have not having my full vault difficulty. I then managed to get more numbers of routines to be selected for the Europeans, and get my bronze medal there! I had a a slight back problem in the summer this year but managed to get back to full fitness for the World champs.
Moving onto Europeans, your first major championships at senior level. What were your hopes and expectations going into the competition?
Well I was hoping to make the AA and vault final, so to make bars was a surprise because it was my weakest piece as a junior, but I’ve managed to increase my start value a lot this year on this piece & is now one of my strongest. There were no expectations for a medal, I mean if there were any it would of been vault, as my beam was the highest difficulty I could of done for me to place in AA so to get a bronze was a MAJOR surprise.
When you landed your vault you looked like you knew you had the medal, can you put into words what it felt like to win the AA bronze for yourself, and also to be the first AA British medalist?
Well it was more relief that I had done all my routines the best I had done, and that I had a bit of a struggle coming back from injury, and I’m quite an emotional person anyway (as majority of the gym world know now haha) so I was just pleased how well I had done. I knew I was in 3rd before vault and obviously vault is my highest scoring event, so I thought I may of had a shot and I was just so shocked to get it.
You also competed in two finals, your first at senior international level. Were you disappointed at all not to have been given the bronze on bars having been just 0.1 away?
I would say I was a bit, but I wasn’t even expecting to make a bar final so I couldn’t really be disappointed.
It’s impossible to talk about your career without talking about your sister Becky. You were just nine years old and about to become British Level 4 champion when she became the highest placed British AA gymnast at the Beijing Olympics (Becky is sill the highest ever Olympic AA finisher). Seven years later and you are now competing on the same senior teams.
When Becky was at the Olympics then world championships, and you being so young, did you ever imagine you would be competing together one day? Did you go to 2009 Worlds to watch her compete?
We always hoped that we would one day but didn’t think it would happen unless Becky was to carry on like she has and for me to progress like I have.
Yeah it is weird to think I went to watch 2009 worlds and then to be competing on a stage like that 6 years later with Becky is a bit strange but so exciting at the same time.
How did Becky support you as a young gymnast, and how has that changed as you’ve got older?
Well she obviously has been through it all, and helped me the best she can. We’ve tried to learn from the mistakes she may have made as a gymnast, and tried to get them right with me, but at the same time we are totally different types of gymnast. She’s like a second mum to me as well as a sister.
What would you say are the main differences between you, In how you train, how you approach competition?
I would say I’m the more relaxed one and just do things as they come, whereas Becky plans everything for everything and anything haha. But when it comes to competing and training I like to keep it all light hearted and have a laugh and joke compared to Becky who likes to be more serious and concentrated but we both are quite chilled when it comes to training.
Which is more scary, competing in a world final, or having to watch Becky compete in one?
Definitely me competing in a world final because at least if Im watching I don’t have to haha!
Can we talk about Worlds? Firstly you came out with upgraded routines on vault, bars and floor just before the championships, and they all looked easy for you. Were they skills that you were ready to compete earlier but were unable to due to dealing with injuries?
Well my vault and bars upgrades were totally new, but my floor was just about getting enough stamina to put it all together because I had all the tumbles if you were to do them on their own.
You did so well qualifying to vault and floor finals, but had the disappointment of missing out on the AA after struggling on bars. How did you feel after qualifications?
Well I was disappointed to have not made the AA finals, because I had been doing my bar routines with no problems in training, so what happened on the day was just a fluke. The routine had a lot of new stuff in and it’s a good learning curve for me, but I was thrilled to have made a vault final, and especially floor as prior to the champs I’d only just scored a 14 on floor.
Team final was unbelievable, can you try to explain what it was like for you. How did you feel when you fell on bars, what did you say to yourself to stay calm, and gather your focus to complete your routine as well as you did?
My fall on bars was again unexpected and watching it back it just looks like I didn’t know where the bar was. I managed to compose myself because I knew I couldn’t let it get to me like I did after qualifications, because I still had the rest of the comp to do and the girls helped me gain my focus again for the other events. After we had all stuck our beam we all felt more settled going into floor and vault because they were our strong pieces.
You looked absolutely ice cool composed before your vault, what did you say to yourself? How did it feel to hit such a great vault when it really counted?
Well we were in 5th after floor so I didn’t even think we could get a medal, so I just thought “this is a normal training vault just do what you’ve been doing for the past 6 weeks”. After I landed I was just so pleased that I managed to pull myself back up after bars and finish strong for the team.
We all saw what it meant when the score came in, and you and the whole team realised what had happened. A historic achievement for British gymnastics, but how did it feel for you personally, to be there with your sister, and team mates you are so close to?
That medal meant everything, and to do it with such great team mates, friends & a sibling was even better. And that we made history too still leaves me speechless.
You competed brilliantly in finals, fourth in the world on vault, and sixth on floor. Although you weren’t in the AA this time, you have scored the highest ever AA total for a British gymnast this year, so clearly have huge potential there. Looking ahead to 2016 what are your plans with upgrades?
Yes I will be upgrading for next year but they need to be sensible upgrades because there’s no point getting the highest difficulty but making it so hard you can’t compete them well. So you’ll have to wait and see 😏
Thank you so much to Ellie for taking the time to share her thoughts, I’m sure we all wish her a a healthy, successful 2016, and to be at her best in the run up to Rio selection!