Despite being at the top of her game on Great Britain’s national squad since 2013, Ellie Downie‘s first national all-around crown didn’t come until this weekend at the 2017 British Championships in Liverpool.
Downie, 17, came close in every year she competed, winning bronze as a junior in 2013 and again as a senior in both 2015 and 2016. But this year belonged to her, as she finished with a 55.35 to come in over two points ahead of the joint silver medalists, first-year seniors Maisie Methuen and Alice Kinsella, before also taking the titles on vault and floor.
Since competing at the Olympic Games in Rio last summer, Downie has been hard at work as she hopes to become an even bigger name on the international scene this quad. This weekend was her first meet back since the Games, and it was an important one, especially as she prepares for both the London World Cup just two weeks away and European Championships shortly after that, where she’ll again hope to break her bronze spell to grab that all-around title as well.
Downie started her competition on Saturday with a big and clean Yurchenko double for a 14.5. Right now, she’s the only Brit competing this vault, which gave her an early lead over her competitors, with the second-highest vault score of the competition just a 13.75.
That lead helped her stay afloat following a fall at the end of her Maloney to Hindorff combo on bars, though the rest of the routine was solid, including her toe full to piked Tkachev to pak and double layout with a hop, earning a 13.6 (including three tenths in bonus). Continuing to beam, Downie had a huge wobble on her leap series and again on her acro series, but she hit a solid punch front to split jump, standing arabian, double spin, and nearly stuck 2½ dismount to finish with a 13.55 (another two bonus tenths there).
On floor, Downie competed a double double with a step, a strong 1½ to double arabian, and a stumble on her double pike for a 13.7 (three bonus tenths). Her all-around score without the bonus ended up at 54.55, still one of the top scores this season with the Russians really her only competition going into Euros, so she’s definitely in contention for a medal in Cluj, and possibly even gold if she hits four solid routines.
Downie opted to compete only vault and bars in event finals, easily winning the vault title with a 14.437 average thanks to her huge difficulty here, one of the highest difficulty combinations in the world at the moment. Her Yurchenko double was big and beautiful, as always, though her Lopez — which she’s attempting to upgrade to a Cheng — was a little short and landed out-of-bounds. The DTY got two-tenths in bonus, bringing it to a massive 15.15, though even without the bonus, a 14.95 is the highest single-vault score of the year thus far.
The bars title was a little bit harder to come by, as she had far greater competition here (including from her sister!), but she ended up with a 14.6 (two bonus tenths) after a clean, solid, hit routine capped off with a flared and nearly-stuck double layout dismount. It’s actually one of the strongest bar routines I think I’ve seen her compete, and she showed a great recovery from her fall in the all-around to really impress in finals.
Though Kinsella and Methuen both finished with a 53.3 to tie, without the domestic bonus in play at this meet, Kinsella would’ve gotten the silver over Methuen with a 52.9 to Methuen’s 52.7.
For Kinsella, this was a huge comeback from the unfortunate performance she gave in Stuttgart last weekend, coming in over five points higher overall, and demonstrating an especially great fight from start to finish. I didn’t see her bars, though her E score was a bit low there, but that aside she hit a clean Yurchenko full, a solid floor routine, hitting everything nicely aside from a few landing errors, like her chest down on her triple full, and a couple of bounces out of her double full and double pike.
But beam was where she killed it, earning a 14.05 (two bonus tenths) for an absolutely gorgeous routine. With a back handspring to candle position mount, effortless double spin, and incredible side aerial loso loso series, she easily posted the top score of the day, with only a wobble on her front aerial and a step on her 2½ dismount.
Unfortunately, she fell on this routine in finals, and also got hammered for her landings on floor, so she was unable to grab any additional medals. Once she gains more consistency on beam, though, she could be one of the country’s best there. Often with British beam, we see lots of power routines, but Kinsella brings an element of grace to her work and if she continues working on it, she could add lots of value to teams in the future.
I feel like Methuen had the longest junior career ever, competing internationally on the regular even back when she was at the espoir level, so it’s great to finally see her in the senior ranks. The three-time Welsh champion who also won a British all-around silver in 2015 is a beautiful performer, and floor was the highlight for me in her senior debut.
Her brand-new routine is so lovely, and like Kinsella on beam, it’s very un-British in that the focus is more on the performance value than on big tumbling. Methuen’s most difficult pass is her opening tucked full-in, which she follows up with a double pike and a front double full, but the choreography and what she brings to her performance is what makes this a stellar routine, and it’s why I’m thrilled she became the senior floor champion with a 13.425 (including three bonus tenths) in addition to also showing a clean routine in the all-around final.
In fourth place was Georgia-Mae Fenton, who has been hampered by injury throughout her career, never quite getting her due despite coming up as one of the most promising juniors. Her bars right now are massive, though, earning a gigantic 14.9 (still an impressive 14.6 without the three bonus tenths) for a Ricna half to Ezhova, Maloney to clear hip to Ricna to bail to Ray, and big full-in dismount, hopped forward here, but the rest was so good, we can forgive that.
She finished right behind Downie in event finals with a 14.575, including four bonus tenths, missing some connection work but otherwise hitting another strong and clean set to take the silver.
Fenton also has some beautiful elements on beam, including a Valdez right into her bhs loso flight series, though in her all-around performance she unfortunately had a fall on her double spin and then a big wobble on her front aerial before landing her double full dismount with a big step off the mat.
On floor she showed more lovely work, including a high stuck double tuck and a lovely spin series, but then she came up short on her front double full, putting her hand down to count another fall, taking her out of contention for a medal. Her total was a 51.95 including bonus — or a 51.55 without it — but there’s definitely room for improvement, and she can absolutely get international assignments for her bars alone in the future.
Rounding out the top eight were Phoebe Turner in fifth with a 51.4 (without bonus: 50.8), Ellesse Oates in sixth with a 50.55 (without bonus: 49.85), 2015 worlds alternate Charlie Fellows in seventh with a 50.4 (without bonus: 50.0), and 2010 worlds team member Nicole Hibbert making a fabulous comeback to finish eighth with a 50.2 (without bonus: 49.6).
Turner, who committed to Iowa State last year, showed her best work on vault and beam, winning the vault bronze medal with a 13.412 average and getting a 12.575 (including two bonus tenths) to win beam gold in what was an unusually rough final, with her low beam choreo absolutely a highlight.
Oates ended up having a fall on her Gienger in the bars final to end up in last there, and then she performed a gorgeous floor routine with top-notch choreography in that final, but with lower difficulty, couldn’t afford the 0.5 she ended up getting from going out-of-bounds, and placed eighth there as well. But overall, it was a very strong senior debut for her, and it will be fun seeing what she can do going forward.
After missing the 2016 season, I loved seeing Fellows return to the sport at a time when many are retiring. Now aged 20, she brings a great experience and poise to the senior division, and had a couple of fabulous moments this weekend, including a solid Yurchenko full, clean work on bars, and very strong tumbling in her floor routine, including on her 1½ through to double tuck and big double arabian.
Fellows ended up winning the floor bronze with a 13.05 (including three bonus tenths), and continues to add to the depth of the British program even without being one of the ‘stars’ of the team.
What a surprise we got with Hibbert’s return! Seven years ago at this competition, Hibbert — the 2009 British junior champion — made her senior debut, winning the silver medal behind Hannah Whelan. Hibbert went on to represent Great Britain at Euros and worlds that year, but got injured the week before she was expected to compete at the 2011 American Cup. Despite making a push for 2012, Hibbert finished seventh at nationals that summer and retired shortly after.
For her first competition in nearly five years, Hibbert — now 22 and a personal trainer — looked great, with bars her strongest event, though she also looked solid on vault and promising on floor. Who knows where or if she’ll factor in the future, but I loved seeing her back, and especially with strong enough routines to put her in the top eight among the country’s best!
A couple of all-arounders finished a bit short of where we expected to see them, including new senior Latalia Bevan in 11th with a 49.1. Bevan, who didn’t rely on any bonus in her routines, unfortunately had a rough bars performance and sat her 2½ at the end of an otherwise beautiful floor routine that included a strong double pike and a small hop out of her 1½ to front full.
Bevan also had a brilliant showing on beam in the all-around, earning a 13.65, and despite a fall in finals, she still managed to earn the silver medal with a 12.475.
Aside from Downie, three other 2016 Olympians also came out to play in Liverpool, with Becky Downie back on bars and beam, Claudia Fragapane fresh from her Strictly Come Dancing gig on beam and floor, and Amy Tinkler, who competed three events at the American Cup earlier this month, on bars.
Downie unfortunately had a couple of missteps on her signature event, bars, getting a 14.0 on her first day and a 14.025 in finals, with three bonus tenths for each routine. In prelims, she fell on her toe full to Ricna, though unveiled her clean new Maloney to Ricna combo. In the event final, she went for the bigger toe full to eponymous Downie, but fell again, though the judges both days still rewarded her with really high E scores, and so she ended up with the bronze there.
On beam, the elder Downie had wobbles throughout her routine, including on her punch front, side aerial loso, and side somi, earning a 13.6 (two tenths in bonus), but nerves are always a major part of post-Olympic returns, so I have no doubt she’ll be back to normal as the bigger competitions come up this year.
I was impressed to see Fragapane bring back a good chunk of her difficulty, including her layout series and her standing full on beam, though she had falls on both of these and finished with just an 11.85, not making it to the final.
Fragapane also unveiled a new routine, done to “The Nuttycracker Suite” from Thoroughly Modern Millie. As someone who saw that show 11 times on Broadway back in 2002-2004, I was thrilled when her music began and actually love it as a choice for her. It’s different from what we might expect, and she fully brings the sass into her performance.
On day one, Fragapane hit all of her tumbling, including a big double layout, a double arabian with a step, a super low triple full, and a solid double pike, posting the top score of the day with a 13.75 (including three bonus tenths). In finals, though, she under-rotated her triple pretty severely, getting it maybe 2¾ of the way around, and then stumbling it another half so that she landed completely out-of-bounds. She only received a 13.15 here (two bonus tenths) to finish behind Methuen, winning the silver instead of the gold she hoped for.
Tinkler returned only on bars, falling on her Markelov on Saturday, but hitting a clean routine on Sunday, earning a 13.925 (two bonus tenths) to finish fourth behind Becky Downie. Fun fact: without the bonus, Downie and Tinkler actually would have tied for bronze.
Other medalists this weekend included Holly Jones with the silver on vault, averaging 13.512, and Lana Chilton with the bronze on beam, hitting her routine to earn a 12.225.
The European Championships nominative list released just days before nationals had the Downie sisters, Fragapane, and Tinkler expected to compete in Cluj next month, and I don’t think anything we saw this weekend will change that. Even with mistakes, this core group proved to have the most difficult and the biggest scoring potential.
I would like to see Fenton perhaps get that bars spot over Becky Downie, if only because Downie has already more than proven herself, and it’s just as important to give the up-and-coming kids international experience as it is to add more medals to collections. I love Downie’s bars, but if anything, Fenton earned that spot this week, with her hitting both routines and Downie falling both days. But Downie as a two-time Olympian and reigning Euro bars champ hoping to defend her title obviously has more pull within the national team.
In that case, I say replace Tinkler with Fenton. Ellie Downie is obviously the team’s biggest — and only — all-around medal hopeful, and Tinkler doesn’t quite have the skills yet to really challenge for a final on any event, let alone a medal. If both Fenton and Becky Downie go, they could potentially dominate the international bars field while giving Fenton experience that could help her immensely should the team need to rely on her in the future.
So that would be my team — the Downies, Fragapane, and Fenton. Tinkler, who has only been back for about two months, can continue training and building back to a more competitive level. There’s no reason to push it now, especially with bigger meets like worlds on the line in the future.
I’ll have the junior recap coming up soon, but for a brief rundown, that meet belonged to Taeja James and Amelie Morgan. The pair placed first and second in the all-around on Friday before coming back Sunday, where Morgan won the beam title and James won everything else. Full results from British Championships are available here.