Gymnastics

Becky Downie wants to do World Championships for herself after ‘very hard’ year

After an unimaginably difficult five months, Becky Downie says she wants to “compete for myself” at the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships.

Downie’s younger brother Josh died in May after suffering a heart attack in cricket training.

The following month, the 29-year-old was denied what may have been her last chance to challenge for an Olympic medal when she was left out of the selection for Tokyo 2020 by British Gymnastics.

Downie says “it’s been very, very hard getting to this point”, but she will now return to international competition in Japan on Monday.

The 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist was granted an extension to British Gymnastics’ Olympic selection process following her brother’s death.

When the decision to leave her out was eventually made, Downie appealed but this was rejected.

At the time, it was understood that British Gymnastics wanted to focus on winning a team medal – an ambition they achieved with bronze – rather than take a specialist to the Games.

But the decision was criticised by the group Gymnasts for Change, who believed it was linked to Downie and her younger sister Ellie speaking out about abusive behaviour in gymnastics training.

It is easy to see why Downie says this year “has been really hard”.

“There are still many days where I’m struggling with things myself,” she tells BBC Sport. “Gymnastics is something I love and it gives me that drive and focus.

“If I didn’t have that it would have been really hard so that is where I have tried to put my energy.”

How to watch the Artistic Gymnastics World Championships on the BBC
Downie adds that she is “really proud of getting to this point” where she will once again compete on the world stage.

“It can be difficult when there are a lot of other emotions going on,” she continues.

“It is such a technical and difficult sport to do so that has been a balancing act this year – trying to train well and safely with everything else that’s going on.

“There are probably going to be challenges still out there but [I’m] just taking it a day at a time and trying to do it for myself really.”

‘Emotional’ and ‘frustrating’
Gymnasts will compete for all-around and individual apparatus titles but there is no team event at the World Championships this year.

With Olympic champion Max Whitlock and the rest of the British team that competed in Tokyo resting, these championships offer an opportunity for old faces to try and get back into the fold and for younger gymnasts to make their senior debuts.

Commonwealth champion Georgia-Mae Fenton will compete alongside Downie, while 16-year-old Ruby Stacey has been selected for her first major championships.

For Downie, who made her Great Britain debut in 2006 and has won 14 senior medals across her career, the event in Kitakyushu is a chance to stake her claim on a place in the team before a packed 2022.

The Commonwealth Games take place in Birmingham next year, with European and World Championships also planned.

But Downie is not looking too far ahead at the moment.

“I’m taking it a day at a time, seeing how things go,” she says. “I’ve trained for the last two years since my medal in 2019 and I’ve not had a proper opportunity to show any of my work.

“In some ways it’s frustrating because, as much as I feel I have trained for two years, everything has been really up and down.

“Still getting emotional is a lot and dealing with going into these worlds but I’m just trying to do the best that I can.

“I want to compete for myself to be able to show that hard work I’ve put in and see how it goes.”

‘I haven’t had time to process everything’
Downie represented Team GB at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and again eight years later in Rio.

The former European champion, who underwent ankle surgery in 2018, had delayed her retirement for one last attempt at her first Olympic medal, believing her routine was good enough to win gold.

Despite not getting selected for Tokyo, thoughts of retirement are still far from Downie’s mind.

“I’m definitely looking forward to, once these championships are done, having a proper break,” she says.

“I haven’t had time to really process everything that this year has been. I’m very excited for next year to have a clean slate and start again.

“These worlds are the icing on the cake to show my work and put those two years into practice.”

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