Danusia Francis – putting on a show

“I adore and worship Usain Bolt

Danusia “does a Bolt” at the Superstars of Gymnastics (Photo courtesy Jamie McPhilimey / Matchroom Multi Sport)

19 March 2019 – This Saturday, 24-year-old Danusia, a former British gymnast now representing Jamaica, takes part in the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London. It will suit her very well, having competed for college gymnastics in the USA where they like to entertain the audience. I chatted with her after the 2019 English championships. 

One of the highlights of Danusia’s career was competing at the 2011 World Championships, where she was a member of the British gymnastics team. They were determined to make the top eight and qualify automatically for the 2012 Olympic Games, to be held on home turf in London, in the same arena where Superstars is taking place.

She describes those worlds as “monumental in my career, because that was us qualifying to the 2012 games. It was a lot of pressure, and we pulled it off. That was when the GB team was only just around the top eight, so we had to pull off a great competition – and we did.”

The team eventually placed fifth, the best ever result for the British women at the time, and it was a very emotional moment. “We’d been at trials and camps for months and months, so I’ll always remember that. Our team really bonded which was amazing.”

However, she was selected as alternate to the Olympic team, so didn’t actually compete in the Olympic Games. The following year she competed in the World University Games and joined the University of California gymnastics team, where she enjoyed a very successful extension of her gymnastics career. 

In 2015 she took advantage of her Jamaican heritage to join the Jamaican gymnastics team – although she nearly competed for a different country altogether.

“I’m half Polish and half Jamaican,” she says. “If I could speak Polish I would have tried out for the Polish team – obviously it’s closer to home so it would have been easier.” But there was another incentive that pushed her towards Jamaica – “I adore and worship Usain Bolt, he’s my idol, so I really wanted to be on Usain Bolt’s team!”

Sadly, history has a way of repeating itself. “At 2015 worlds I qualified a spot to the Olympic Test event for Jamaica, but then they decided to give it to another girl on the team, because she had been competing for them for longer,” she explains. It meant Danusia missed the Olympic Games – again.

After she graduated from UCLA in 2016, Danusia retired from gymnastics and was looking at future careers. “I didn’t plan to carry on gymnastics at all,” she says, “but having missed out so narrowly on both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, I thought, I’ve got to give it one last shot.”

2017 was a year of ups and downs for Danusia – “dusting off the cobwebs,” she says, “just getting back into it.” She hadn’t vaulted in years, so that was one of the biggest challenges. But gradually, she returned to top level, even adding more difficulty than she had had at college, and her first comeback all-around competition was the English championships this month.    

Danusia at the 2019 English championships. Photo courtesy Danusia Francis

As she now represents Jamaica, Danusia could only compete as a guest, and was ineligible for medals. However, her all-around score put her in third place. 

“This is quite an important year, because at the end of the year hopefully we can qualify for Tokyo, which is the goal,” she says. “So to start off at the English championships and have a great day was brilliant.”

In between training, competing and performing in the Superstars show, Danusia also has a job promoting scholarship opportunities for gymnasts at college in America. She is the Global Gymnastics Manager at College Sports America, a role she loves because she feels she is giving something back to the gymnastics community.

“I’ve been on a scholarship myself at boarding school [in London, from the age of nine] and then at UCLA, so to be able to give people that same experience – it just feels perfect.”

Danusia will be performing alongside Simone Biles, Max Whitlock and a host of British and international gymnastics stars at the O2 arena in London on Saturday 23rd March. 

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