14 Jul 2019
Ellie Downie turned 15 years old the month before she brought four medals home from the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) Nanjing 2014. After embracing the Olympic Games Rio 2016, the British gymnast is ready to use her experience to show the world what she can do in Tokyo next year.
In gymnastics, perhaps more so than any other Olympic event, athletes have to show a great level of maturity at a young age. And few of the young gymnasts at Nanjing 2014 were as mature as Ellie Downie, who held her nerve to win a competition-high four medals.
Her silver medal in the vault came alongside three bronzes in the floor, balance beam and all-around events, giving her a great platform from which to progress. Consequently, Downie claimed her first medal on the elite stage by finishing third in the team event at the FIG World Artistic Championships the following year.
Since then, she has made her return to the Olympic stage, participating at Rio 2016, and has now won multiple medals at senior level, including gold in the all-around event at the 2017 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Cluj-Napoca (Romania).
Downie tells olympic.org how she has used all of these experiences to reach where she is today, and how her focus is turning to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Four medals at the YOG is an impressive achievement. What was your immediate reaction to those amazing performances?
“Honestly, some of them came as a shock and some of them were my aim. I’d say my floor and vault medals were definitely my aim. My all-around and beam medals were quite a surprise. It’s pretty great to look back and remember that you’ve got medals that have the Olympic rings on. It’s such a good stepping stone for all of the competitions that I’ve done as a senior. [The YOG is] such a major competition and, especially going on your own, you can’t shy away from the experience.”
What was the most valuable lesson you took from Nanjing 2014?
“How to control your nerves on a big stage. You’re on your own and it can be very scary at quite a young age. I was halfway across the world at the age of 15 and my coach and I didn’t really know anyone else. It teaches you to be independent and take things in your stride.”
Do you have any advice for young athletes competing at the YOG?
“Enjoy the experience. It’s such a unique competition, especially in gymnastics as there’s only one athlete from each nation. If you are that gymnast selected it’s a very, very special opportunity that you’re getting, so just take it all in.”
What was the biggest difference for you between the YOG and the Olympic Games?
“I’d just say that there was more media and excitement about the senior edition. It’s the pinnacle of your career, so there’s definitely more pressure and you never know if you’ll get to go to another one again. But I thought to myself: I’m here, this is what I’ve worked for and I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose now. I actually thought I’d be really, really nervous, but I just wasn’t. I felt very relaxed and wanted to enjoy the experience.”
How important is it to have a good mentality in the group, given the team element of gymnastics?
“Team finals are very nerve-wracking as, if you make a mistake, you’ve not just messed up for yourself, but for the team and all the girls who have been working just as hard as well. It’s definitely scary when doing team competitions, but when it all comes together it’s an amazing feeling to know that everyone has put in so much work and it’s all paid off.”
What are your aspirations for Tokyo 2020?
“I know what I want in my head, but there will only be four girls who go this time [in the British team], so just to make that list of four would be such a big achievement, especially with the injuries I’ve been through this cycle. It would probably mean even more to me this time around just to be there.”
Will you approach these Olympic Games differently from 2016?
“Slightly differently. Now that I’ve had a whole cycle as a senior, I don’t like to put too much pressure on things, but others can start to feel the pressure and get stressed and then you start to feel it, too. People remind you it’s just a year away, but you still have to work just as hard as usual in the gym and I just try to avoid thinking about it now.”