When 2008 Olympian Becky Downie returned home to Nottingham after picking up two gold medals at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, she didn’t have much time to spend with her younger sister, Ellie.
Ellie, who turned 15 last month and trains at Notts Gymnastics, was packing up to leave for Nanjing, China, where she will represent Great Britain at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games. The Games, which began in 2010 in an effort for junior athletes to gain recognition and experience before embarking on their Olympic journeys. As one of the top juniors attending, Ellie has a massive shot at taking home top prizes when the Games begin next week, adding to the already weighty collection of international medals earned by the sisters.
It’s difficult to imagine the stress on the parent of just one elite gymnast. The training, competitions, travel, and media appearances that come with being one of the top athletes in your nation takes a toll, but Helen Downie is on double duty. As part of our profile on the younger Downie, The Gymternet spoke to Helen about life as a gym mom with two kids on top.
First of all, how has this year been for you so far? I bet it has been a whirlwind of emotion with all of the competitions.
This year has been crazy. The most emotional competition of the year for all of us was most certainly European Championships, though there were plenty of happy tears.
Can you tell us how Ellie is feeling now that she’s about to leave for Nanjing? Is she more nervous or excited? Does she have any goals she’s set for herself?
Ellie is very excited to be going to China and very proud to be selected. She obviously would love to bring home a medal of whatever color – her favorite event is vault so we will have to wait and see. She is not nervous, yet I am…but I am sure a few nerves will kick in on competition day.
Now, you’ve been to both Sofia and Glasgow so far this year with your girls. Are you also going to hop on a plane to China?
Unfortunately I can’t go to China to support Ellie, although I would love to be there for her. We have lots of other committments, with one being my 18-year-old son Josh, who is off to Australia on a cricket scholarship in September.
How did Ellie get involved with the sport?
Ellie only got involved in gymnastics as we were at the gym every day with Becky and we thought her doing the preschool class would stop her getting bored. She was only three years old then.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s like to have not one but two high performing athletes under one roof?
Having two gymnasts is very time consuming, stressful at times, and expensive, but to see them happy, successful, and achieving their dreams is the best feeling ever. The worst aspect of the sport is injury and the emotional impact it has on them.
What is attending the competitions like for you? Have all of these years of supporting your daughters at the events turned you into a fan of the sport?
Attending competitions still makes me nervous, even though I have been doing it for fifteen years now, because I know how important it is to my girls. I knew nothing about gymnastics when Becky started. I still do not understand a lot but I do love to watch it now – both women’s and men’s. It’s an amazing talent and I never dreamt my girls would reach the level they have.
As you have a lot of experience being a mother to two elite gymnasts, what’s your advice for mothers whose daughters are only just starting to take up the sport at a higher level?
It is a very demanding sport, both physically and emotionally. Let them always make their own decisions. Their gym life, in my opinion, should be kept in the gym and coaching should be left to the coaches. Take every day as it comes and try not to have expectations as setbacks often occur unexpectedly. Do not compare – every gymnast’s journey is different and success can come when you least expect it!
We’d like to thank Helen for taking the time to answer our questions. For more about her exciting life, follow her on Twitter! And now, meet Ellie and get to know a bit about her gymnastics before you see her compete next week.
The highlight of Ellie’s career thus far has arguably been Junior European Championships earlier this year. Not only did she make history with her team by winning a silver medal in team finals, she also won a historic bronze medal in the all-around, scoring a 55.332 – a great improvement from her previous attempts. This was the first all-around medal Team GB has ever won at a European Championship at the junior or senior level.
In event finals, Ellie won the gold on vault with an average of 14.633. She also placed fifth on uneven bars, where she reached a new personal best of 13.8.
Looking ahead to the competition in Nanjing beginning August 18, things are looking great for Ellie. With solid start values across the board and as one of only a handful of girls competing a DTY on vault, she has a great shot at medalling in the all-around as well as in several finals.
A vault medal could come easily to her. She competes a lovely, powerful DTY as well as a Yurchenko half-on piked front half-off, giving her an average difficulty of 5.5 on the event, a score matched only by one of her fellow YOG competitors – Seda Tutkhalyan of Russia.
On bars, her form is lovely and clean, just like her big sister’s, and she dismounts with a great double layout. There is huge potential for upgrades in the future. Make sure to watch this routine from Euros…not a single leg separation! Good stuff.
I love Ellie’s attitude on beam. She attacks those skills! She’s confident in all of her movements and goes through her leaps and full spin with ease. I like how she doesn’t let small wobbles get to her; instead, she immediately moves on. If she gets the wobbles under control, she could certainly add a few tenths to her beam score.
Her floor routine is a crowd-pleaser, for sure! She has potential to upgrade a few of her passes here as well, but I think even without upgrades it will be competitive enough to challenge for medals next week. She scored a 13.833 for this routine.
What I find most striking about Ellie is her determination. She has the mental strength you need to compete at the highest level in this sport. I think she has the potential to qualify for every final in Nanjing if she performs clean routines because both her difficulty and her execution set her apart from the rest of her competition.
We wish Ellie safe travels and best of luck in Nanjing!
Article by Fran Elsner