*Warning potentially emotional and sentimental posting ahead, I have no idea what I’m going to come out with! *
Three years ago in 2014, Ellie Downie made history by taking AA bronze at the Junior European Championships, the first British WAG to medal AA at either junior or senior level. A year later in 2015 she moved into the senior ranks making history once more by taking AA bronze in her first major senior event. Today Ellie contested her second AA European Championships, she made history once more.
I have long believed that Ellie has the talent and potential to lead a new wave taking British Women’s gymnastics to an entirely new level, even further than they have climbed already, I hope I am right in believing that this really is her quad. She has made the perfect start.
Before moving on to Ellie, I want to talk about Alice Kinsella. Flown in on Tuesday, no podium training, straight into qualifications, then straight into the AA final a day later. Do not underestimate the jump from junior to senior ranks, the step up in competition, in atmosphere, in pressure.
Alice should be very proud of herself, of her approach to this new level of competition, of the calm way she has dealt with this week, and of the excellent gymnastics she brought to the European stage.
Alice qualified in 14th place to the final, lets look at how she fared.
Starting on beam, and second up. We didn’t get to see her routine on the feed, a huge shame as she placed 4th on this piece today, with the equal third highest E score which is an absolutely brilliant result, and so promising to have such a strong young British beamer coming through. We do know that she hit her new cartwheel layout layout series, and with an 8.033 E score, we also know she hit everything else pretty well too, great start! 13.433 (5.4D, 8.033E)
On to floor, and the exact same score as she was awarded in the AA. Opening with the Memmel spin into back spin, more control today, holding the vertical position, very nicely done. One and a half to two and a half twist, so clean through the twisting skills, and well landed. The triple twist was full rotated, she was low in the chest on landing, but again very clean all the way through. Her dance passage of tour jete to change half I though was better today, especially the change half, which for me she had better range, and extension through her back leg. Front through to double twist, she closed the shape in when she didn’t need to so her feet went under her, which caused her to bounce back, but nothing too drastic. Good strong double pike to finish, just a small pace, and another excellent routine from overall. Lovely dance and presentation all the way through, clean work, half way round and going well.
12.800 (5.0D, 7.8E)
On to vault, again we did not see it, but she clearly vaulted well, 13.466 (4.6D, 8.866E) for her full twisting Yurchenko, a tiny bit up on qualifying, and after three rotaions Alice was in 6th place.
Finishing on bars, clean in the blind in, the new piked Jaeger she touched the bar but wasn’t able to make the catch, although it seems as though they did credit the skill looking at her D score. The rest of this routine looked really good, strong handstands throughout, she was late on the toe full, but the connection to the Pak looks very controlled now. Maloney into shoot half right on top of the bar, Stalder shoot to high bar, toe on, and a high double pike. 12.400 (5.1D, 7.3E)
The fall was a huge shame, yesterdays bars score would have seen her climb in to 7th. Never the less, Alice has finished in 10th place in her first European Championships, a wonderful result, but more wonderful is the potential this new young senior has. As we move through this quad toward Tokyo, the AA gymnast will come to the fore again, as a potential big AA and beam worker, Alice is well placed to make her mark. Congratulations Alice Kinsella, coach Brett Ince, and all at Park Wrekin.
So on to Ellie, many had crowned her European champion already, many saw a foregone conclusion. Many didn’t have to go into a major international championships as leader and favourite for the first time, with the pressure of high expectations on their young shoulders, and produce though, Ellie did. Phenomenal athlete yes, experienced competitor, yes, a seventeen year old girl still not quite an adult though also, yes.
A post for another day is how a small minority on keyboards behind screens judge and condemn children and young adults who don’t always produce like robots, today is a day of celebration though.
Ellie is the strongest AA gymnast in Europe right now, did I believe she would do it? I absolutely did. After Rio I thought we might see this, Ellie has come out with a fire and a fierceness we haven’t seen from her till now, that enormous talent now looks to come with bigger drive, harder fight, stronger belief it seems, I think perhaps she knows what she’s capable of, and doesn’t fear it.
Starting on vault, the huge double twisting Yurchenko, legs locked together coming on, big block, clean, extended, fully completed twists with time to spare, straight down the middle with a small hop 14.566 (5.4D, 9.166 E).
On to bars, forward toe half, Maloney to high bar, such strength in the uprise, into the Hindorf caught fully stretched. Good cast to handstand, a tiny bit late on the toe full, then a great piked Tkatchev with excellent counter rotation giving her plenty of time to swing high into the Pak to low bar. Another good cast, then Van Leuween back to high bar, a tiny bit wild, on the catch where she was off line, but she drove her legs through, straightening out for the upstart . Long swings into the well stretched double straight dismount, really nice open shape throughout, a small hop on landing 14.300 (5.9D, 8.4E) a tiny bit up on qualification.
Half way through, and going very well.
It would take a long time to count the amount of AA championships that have been decided on beam, this piece will make you, or break your heart. Ellie was up first, like many of you I’m sure, I wished her courage and conviction in her abilities, and held my breath.
This was a champion’s routine, and not because it was one of Ellie’s best at all, but because she fought it, she made quick changes when she needed to, and she was not under any circumstances coming off. While holding my breath I was was smiling, as this was what a champion does, and if it can’t be a dream routine, this is what you want.
Ellie made a very strong start here, high and secure in the punch front, adding the split jump which she hadn’t used in qualifying. Huge Arabian, again very well landed. Change to change half leaps, a tiny stutter on landing but well controlled. The double spin she had a big wobble, probably a 0.5, but this is where you could see she wasn’t coming off today, again on the flick layout, she was out of line, hips turning sideways, but again she bought it back under control, and quickly too. Ellie kept cool and used her head well here despite likely being rattled by the two wobbles. She was a little slow on the connection in her leaps earlier, and wouldn’t want to risk losing 0.5 composition requirement. Instead of doing the new split leap to free cartwheel for bonus, she linked linked sissone to W jump, then did the free cartwheel separately. fantastic stuck two and a half, and the gauntlet was thrown down for the others to produce. 13.066 (5.3D, 7.7E)
Going into floor, baring disaster the title was hers. She was 0.467 behind, and having been over a mark ahead on floor in qualifying from Hungary’s Zsofia Kovacs who was leading, I felt confident that as long as she stayed on her feet, she had it.
Good split jump full to start, fully rotated, nice extension and range. A hop forward on the double double, but great in the air. The one and a half to double Arabian which she is usually so solid and accurate on, she had a big pace back, then one to the side. My heart jumped for a second, but that was it, she didn’t let it get away from her. That’s what pressure looks like though, it often hits the skills you’re usually most secure on. Nicely through the change through to tour jete full, more accurate, fully round, and credited today for 0.1 higher D. Stuck double pike, change full also no question about credit, on to the floor to finish, and we saw the first tears as the music stopped.
She didn’t know she was the champion, but the relief, the sheer relief of going clean two days in a row and giving everything you have, of course there are tears, young women under enormous pressure, not robots.
And so the wait, the wait for the score, the wait for the position. Standing next to Zsofia Kovacs, one would be declared Champion. Ellie’s score came in, 13.833 (5.5D, 8.3E) she dropped down head in hands unable to believe the scale of her own achievement. First to her was Alice, a huge hug, supportive, congratulating. Then everyone, Zsofia and Ellie congratulating each other, national coach Colin Still, Ellie’s coach Jo Miller, with her every step of the way to the title, Alice’s coach Brett Ince, all the gymnasts, coaches, warm congratulations for the new European champion. More tears, then tears again as the national anthem played, and more again when reunited with sister Becky. I don’t know about you, but my eyes just wouldn’t stay dry.
I am old enough to remember a time when Great Britain came to take part, when qualification for the AA wasn’t yet a possibility, when medals were for Eastern European gymnasts only, and the Soviet and Romanian gymnasts ruled supreme. Here in the home of one of the powerhouses of that time, a gymnast of the new European order, seventeen year old Ellie Downie has taken the European crown, and I have seen a day that back then I thought I would never see.
Congratulations to Ellie, to her family, to coach Jo Miller, to all at Notts Gymnastics, and all National Staff who have helped British Gymnastics climb to where it is today. Truly remarkable times.
Congratulations also to Zsofia Kovacs on her silver medal, wonderful to see Hungary back on the podium after such a long time away, and also to France’s Melanie Jesus Dos Santos of France.