Gymnastics: Downie sisters take tumble after flying start

Claudia Fragapane competes on the floor at the SSE Hydro. Picture: Getty
Claudia Fragapane competes on the floor at the SSE Hydro. Picture: Getty
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THE margins are so small. One minute you are flying, the next you come back to earth with an almighty thump. Just ask the Downie sisters. They will have had a sleepless night last night, their minds occupied by thoughts of regrets and silent pleas that they will get the chance to redeem themselves.

Everything had been so positive for the Great Britain women as they opened their World Gymnastics Championship campaign in front of an excited and encouraging home crowd at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow. They had topped the standings after three pieces of apparatus and they occupied the top three places in the all-round standings, with 16-year-old Ellie Downie leading the way.

Earlier this year, aged just 15, she had become the first female gymnast to win an individual all-round medal for Great Britain at the European Championships and her combined scores after performing well on the beam and floor and then shining on the vault had catapulted her above luminaries such as Romanian Larisa Iordache, the reigning silver medallist.

But the nation’s hopes took a tumble as first Ellie and then her sister Beccy fell from the uneven bars. With nothing more than pride and individual medal aspirations injured, they picked themselves up and completed their routines but the scores reflected their errors.

Having watched her younger sister hit the mat in unceremonious fashion, Beccy went all out to try to pick up the kind of score which would minimise the damage. She too slammed to the floor and while the team ended the session still leading the standings the lead was not what it might have been and the mistakes had dealt a blow to individual morale and individual ambitions.

“Obviously it’s a bit mixed for me,” admitted the 23-year-old afterwards. “From the team perspective I’m really, really happy. The girls did an amazing job and I’m pretty confident that after today we will get that top eight qualification... I hope. But there is still another day [of qualifiers] to go.

“As an individual I was pretty pleased with it. But the bars were a big disappointment. That was the one [individual apparatus] final I wanted and I thought I had a routine that was potentially medal worthy but I was taking a risk. You have to do that in gymnastics and the routine is pretty new. We are building it ready for next year [at the Rio Olympics] and there are some things that when I go out there it is still a gamble and today it didn’t pay off but that’s one of those things and hopefully I will get another shot at doing it in the team final and I can work out the corrections in time for next year.

“That part of the routine we changed about six weeks ago and put in a connection so it is still very new and under competition pressure I just panicked and the turn going into it was slightly off and I decided to go for it still anyway. Looking back I should have just gone for a catch but you only have a second to make that decision and I made the wrong decision.

“I have done that before, though, in previous routines, and I have learned from those mistakes so I will hopefully go back and learn from that mistake and, in the final, I will hopefully get another shot.”

She had sympathy for her sibling, well aware what she was going through after her temporary fall from grace, but said she too would come back stronger.

“It is quite hard competing together because I really feel for her when she is performing,” said Beccy. “She said it is nice for her because I am after her so she can chill but, for me, you do feel the emotion and it is quite different when it’s your sister and not just a team-mate. She was gutted. But I have been there and you do come out the other end. It’s not always such a bad thing. Of course you want it to go right but you learn from all the mistakes and I have had a lot more mistakes and I have learned from all of them.”

In the end, steady as you go, earned the rewards. Neither 15-year-old Amy Tinkler nor the 19-year-old Louisianna State University student Ruby Harrold topped their team-mates in any of the first three pieces of apparatus. Beccy showed great balance and decent degree of difficulty to high score on the beam, Claudia Fragapane, the four-time gold medallist at last summer’s Commonwealth Games, delivered with a mix of power and elegance on the floor, while Ellie was superb on the vault. But all three had their moments to forget. Fragapane had got off to a poor start, coming off the beam as Great Britain had tried to build some early momentum and get some lofty scores on the board ahead of many of the main challengers for a place in the team finals making their entrance.

Romania, who had finished ahead of GB in the Championships last year, had stumbled in their earlier qualifying session, but there were still past finalists to come. The first of the defending medallists in the team event, Russia, were to follow them, so too were Italy, who had also finished above them in China as well, but perhaps underlining that the GB ambition had paid off, by the end of their performances only the Russians were able to top the home team.

Today witnesses the arrival of, defending champions USA, as well as China. But on a day of ups and downs, it appears the home team have done enough to see them finish in the top eight and qualify for Tuesday’s final. The wait to find out, though, will seem more unbearable for some than others.