Downie sisters feature in Team GB podcast

The name Downie has been at the forefront of British Gymnastics for 14 years, with first Becky and then Ellie vaulting, jumping and somersaulting their way to the top of the sport.

Between them, they have competed at three Olympic Games and won four World Championship medals, one each in the team competition and one each individually.

As part of Team GB’s Moments That Made Me podcast, the sisters spoke to Radzi Chinyanganya and told him about the moments that made them.

The full conversation is available on the Moments That Made Me podcast, in association with the University of Hull, and is available on iTunes, Google, Spotify and SoundCloud. Simply search Team GB wherever you get your podcasts from and you’ll find the Moments That Made Me podcast.

Moment One: Injury heartache and youth gold

Seven years older than her sister, Becky Downie has been on the international circuit since she first broke through at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

Aged 14, she was part of the England team that won overall silver and then won individual bronze on the balance beam.

Two years later, she made her Olympic debut. The next stop was London.

However in 2011, she ruptured her Achilles in an injury that cost almost a year of her career. It was a sliding doors moment.

“After the injury I had to find new ways to condition and stay as strong and fit as I can. I think my training started to change direction from that point. It was a key changing point in my career.

“The tendon snapped in half. I knew what I had done because my ankle was not in a good way at all. It was not nice to go through that but it changed me a lot.

“I really want to go on and coach and I think athlete-coach communication is key. There is some pain that, as an athlete, you have to deal with but then there is pain that you need to listen to and we didn’t listen to it. It was not a nice way to learn but I would be silly not to learn from it.”

Two years later, her sister Ellie arrived on the scene at the European Youth Olympic Festival, with a team silver and individual gold on the vault.

Like her big sister seven years before, she was making waves at 14.

“It was my first major competition really and it was a multi-sport competition. We left on my birthday so I got a nice cake!

“It was when I knew I was good. People tell you that, but you never really believe it until you get medals and realise. It was a massive confidence boost and taught me I could do it.”

Moment 2: Olympic lows and World highs

Becky recovered from her Achilles rupture in time for the London 2012 Games – but she was below her best in the Team GB trials and was not selected for the team.

That, she says, was the hardest moment of her career.

“It was the first team I did not make in my career. I had made every team I was healthy enough to go for and that was the hardest point. I did not expect it.

“The only comparison is when someone dies. Something is lost. I was a reserve, so I had to go and watch the other girls train and be there in case someone gets hurt, which you don’t want to happen.

“I thought, I needed to be the number one so that they could not do that again. That was a positive but it was a hard time.”

Becky responded with two Commonwealth Games golds and a European title in 2014, while the British squad was in a strong place for the World Championships the following year.

Everything came together at the perfect time in Japan, with Ellie securing team bronze with a brilliant vault routine.

“I made a mistake on the second piece and thought I blew it for everyone. But for the rest of the competition, I was determined to make it up.

“We got to the vault and knew that we could medal. And it was me. We were all in tears and relieved it had paid off. I thought I messed up for the girls but to come out of it making history was cool.”

Moment 3: European glory and a history-making vault

Becky made good on her promise to become almost undroppable. In 2013, she became British champion on the uneven bars and a year later she was part of the GB squad that won European team silver.

However, her biggest moment followed days after when she became European Champion on the uneven bars.

“It had been a struggle for so long, so many injuries and ups and downs. I finished 2013 and felt like I had nothing to prove. I was not perfect but then neither was anyone else.

“A huge weight had been lifted that year and I felt more relaxed in 2014. I was holding back tears after the routine because I knew I had done it. To watch the rest unfold how it did was very special.”

Ellie made her European Championship debut in 2016, with three silver medals. That year, both went to Rio 2016.

Last year, Ellie made history – becoming the first GB woman to won a World Championship medal on the vault, with bronze.

“I had been working on that particular vault for years. I had it for the Games in 2016 but it was not quite ready. I had ankle surgery after and that delayed it, and then I could not take the impact for a while after I got back. But we put it out in the World Championships last year after four years of tying to master it. It was an unreal feeling.

“It was hard for me to put it out but I was so happy I went for it. It has always been a big goal of mine to be the first ever world vaults medallist.”