Alice Kinsella, Jessica Gadirova, Jennifer Gadirova, and Amelie Morgan
British Gymnastics announced the women’s team that is set to compete at the 2020 Olympic Games yesterday, and the decision was not without controversy.
A day before the final trial meets began over the weekend of May 7, Becky Downie learned that her younger brother Josh tragically passed away from a heart attack at just 24 years old while at cricket practice, and both she and sister Ellie ended up leaving the competition hall to be with their family.
The British federation offered the sisters an extension so they’d have an additional opportunity to prove themselves as contenders for the team, and while Ellie opted to sit out, Becky ended up agreeing to the terms of the additional final, competing bars and beam twice over the weekend of May 21, just two weeks after her brother’s death.
Downie hit one bars set well enough for a 14.450, the highest of the five routines she’s competed this year, though she sat the dismount on the other set and scored a 13.925. Her track record for the first set of trials in March wasn’t great, with a 14.3 for one routine, though she went sub-14 on the other two. She also hit three strong routines among the four routines she competed on that event, but with scores in the low 13s, none were high enough to make her a standout on the event.
Making this year’s team with a four-up three-count qualifications format as a gymnast who competes only two apparatuses was never going to be easy, so I wasn’t surprised to see that Downie ended up not being selected to compete in Tokyo, especially when the selection committee said they were prioritizing the goals of the team over the goals of individual gymnasts.
Instead, the women’s program went with a young team that included all gymnasts who became seniors in the 2020 quad, including 2019 European beam champion Alice Kinsella, 2021 European bars bronze medalist Amelie Morgan, and the 16-year-old twins, 2021 European floor champion and all-around bronze medalist Jessica Gadirova and 2019 junior world vault silver medalist Jennifer Gadirova.
My problem is not that Downie wasn’t selected. As someone hoping to go primarily as a bars specialist, Downie needed to consistently hit at least a 14.8 average on the event as she did at worlds in 2019, but instead, her highest score was just a 14.450, and her average just a 13.810, a point lower than she likely needed. Downie has the potential for a 6.9 routine, which would put her among those with the highest difficulty in the world, but she had yet to compete it at that level, and instead competed four routines at a 6.4.
Perhaps Downie could have reached that 6.9 by the time she got to Tokyo, especially given that she was still doing strong 6.4 routines and competing at a trial meet under the most unimaginable pressure just two weeks after learning about her brother’s tragic death. But is it fair to reward a team spot based on potential?
I’d say no, and it seems British Gymnastics would agree in terms of why they thought Downie shouldn’t go, but that didn’t stop them from selecting gymnasts who also weren’t at a hundred percent at trials. Like Downie, both Morgan and Jennifer Gadirova were dealing with setbacks, and didn’t do everything they were capable of, and part of their selection seems to be based on potential and not so much what they did when it supposedly counted.
This is nothing against either of them. Morgan looked excellent at Euros, but injuries have limited her on vault and floor, and she also wasn’t hitting beam at her full potential, with Downie actually looking stronger on this event than Morgan did. Gadirova was also dealing with injuries, missing two of the trials and scoring just an 11.8 on floor at the last meet, while her beam scores, with the exception of the last set, were lower than Downie’s as well.
Though Downie wasn’t yet doing her strongest work on bars, she got a 13.925 with a fall and still averaged a 13.810, higher than anyone else in contention, and she was averaging similar scores on beam compared to both Morgan and Gadirova. Despite not competing vault or floor, Downie’s scores on bars and beam are necessary to the highest potential team total, so even with the British women’s program valuing the team over individual results, Downie should have been more legitimately considered.
The argument against her is that without routines on vault or floor, the team would be at a disadvantage in qualifications, having to count three-for-three on both events, meaning if there were multiple falls on both, the team would not be able to drop the score and they’d risk not making the team final, with the worst-case-scenario being that an athlete sits a vault butt-first and earns a zero. I understand this, and think if the federation had explained upfront that they required all team athletes to be all-arounders, Downie would have known earlier on what would be expected of her, and she would have known that her likelihood of being considered was low.
But Downie didn’t know this, either at the start of the process, or as she pushed herself to get back into the gym just days after her brother passed away, and back into competition only a couple of weeks later. Had the federation been upfront about a team of all-arounders only, Downie could have opted to sit out the additional trial, and wouldn’t have had to push herself for no reason all while facing tremendous grief.
While the situation with Downie is an appalling one, I also think the four who were selected for the team absolutely deserve to be there, and the Downie mess should take nothing away from what they all did to get here. I love seeing Kinsella take on a leadership role after serving the British team as a standout competitor ever since she became a senior in 2017, I think Morgan will bring the calm consistency that she always steps up and shows in major international competitions, and the Gadirovas have it in them to be superstars with the potential to make history for the British program. I think this team has it in them to do incredible things, and I look forward to cheering them on in Tokyo later this summer.
In addition to the four who were named to the team, Georgia-Mae Fenton will serve as the reserve athlete and will also travel to Japan. Others in the final stages of contention included Ondine Achampong, Kelly Simm, and Welsh gymnast Emily Thomas.
The men’s team was named a couple of weeks ago, with Joe Fraser, James Hall, Giarnni Regini-Moran, and Max Whitlock set to compete in Tokyo, while the traveling alternate has yet to be determined.
Article by Lauren Hopkins