By Ashlee Buhler 

She’s been competing on the World and Olympic stage for over a decade, but no competition has been harder for Becky Downie to prepare for than this one. 

It’s been an emotional and challenging year to say the least. First came the unexpected passing of her brother Joshua on the eve of her final Olympic trial. Downie, determined to finish the journey she started, kept training, and worked out a new trial date with British Gymnastics that would allow her to still contend for a spot on the Olympic team by performing on her own in an empty sports hall. 

She pulled off a flawless routine, world class in terms of difficulty and execution, yet despite being a clear medal favorite for the Tokyo Olympics, she was not selected for the British Olympic team. 

“It was heartbreaking not making the Olympics… when I felt like I was in the best shape of my life,” Downie said. 

Despite the heartbreak, Downie persisted—her eyes set on the World Championships just two months later in Kitakyushu, Japan. Coming in as the reigning World silver medalist on bars from 2019 (and with one of the most difficult routines being done in the world) Downie knew the expectations would be high coming in, but with everything she has endured, being back on the world stage at this point is an accomplishment in and of itself. 

“I’m sure everyone will be able to understand what these last few months have been in terms of not just in the gym but my outside gym experiences as well,” Downie said. “Just to even be in Japan to me feels like a miracle.”

Preparing for this competition has not been easy physically or mentally, Downie said. Having the extra days off practice to process and grieve made her preparations for Worlds even more difficult. 

“It was really hard, and I didn’t actually have much time at all from when it happened,” Downie said. “I kind of just needed time to process it a little bit and be with my family and for me, I’m not really good with time off.” 

Downie said she has never taken more than a week off—and even when she does have time off—she continues rehab to keep her body moving. This time, she had ten days completely off, making it difficult for her to be in her best form, particularly on bars where she knows from experience that she needs a solid three months of preparation to be at her best. 

After the first day of competition in Kitakyushu, Downie sits sixth on bars and seventh on beam. On bars, she performed a downgraded routine (6.2 D score as opposed to the 6.6 D score she has trained); a decision she made the night before. A seasoned veteran in the sport, Downie knows her mind and body well. She understands her gymnastics and knows when to pull the reins back. 

“I didn’t feel I could stay on the bar with the biggest routine, and it was kind of just a reflection of where I’m at,” Downie said to the press after the qualification round. “It’s really frustrating for me because I’ve been in such a good position this summer and I really wanted to come and prove I can do that routine, but I kind of had to take that pressure off myself. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t happen this year. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen next year or in the future.”

Perhaps the silver lining was the opportunity to get back on the competition floor to see where she stacks up. For the past two years she’s put in the work but hasn’t had a proper competition to showcase it. Although she did not compete her full difficulty in Kitakyushu, Downie hit an impressive set; the biggest mistake being a large lunge forward on her dismount. Once she hits the more difficult routine, she’s easily among the best in the world.   

“To know that I can still get a 14 with not the right routine, changing it overnight, it’s really positive. The quality is still there,” Downie said. “It shows my experience, it shows I do know what I’m doing, and it’s given me lot of confidence for next year that I need to get into that head space again. I just need a big break and to refresh, really.”

Although she’s known for her bars work, Downie put up a solid performance on beam during qualifications as well. It’s a routine she is more than pleased with and a true testament to the tough journey she’s been on and just how hard she has worked to be here.

“I don’t think it could have gone that much better,” Downie said. “I’ve only started putting my layouts back in a couple of weeks ago. Literally last week I was at the point where I couldn’t get bars and beam in the same day in training very well because my brain was all over the place. It has been the hardest prep I’ve ever done in my career. To be able to come out and perform like that, I’m just really proud of what I’ve done.”

With three subdivisions still to go, Downie’s chances of making an event final in Kitakyushu aren’t certain. However, what’s more important than any result is her resilience through adversity and her determination to never give up. 

“I think it’s just shown how strong I actually am, how much I’ve learned and being able to put that into practice,” Downie said. “I’m just really pleased and happy with what I’ve done and wherever [I end up], [I end up], to be honest, because it’s been the hardest thing in the world to get to this point.”

Downie’s performance in Kitakyushu is one of a true champion. It’s one of somebody who won’t let anything get her way. And if Downie’s 2021 World Championship experience is an indication of anything—she has a lot left to give and won’t stop until she’s achieved everything she set her mind to.

Photos by Volker Minkus/FIG; Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics

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