“Gymnastics is getting so much harder”
27 April 2019 – European all-around champion in 2017, Ellie Downie of Great Britain then spent over a year recovering from surgery – twice – on her left ankle. She returned to competition at the 2018 world championships, then became British champion in March. In April she won the all-around silver medal and bronze on vault at the European championships. I talked to her about what it took to make a successful comeback.
“It was a hard time for me,” says Ellie of the long period she spent out of competition. “”It was hard to watch competitions I wasn’t in, so I was itching to get back.”
She is keen to stress that rehabilitation after injury is just as hard work as regular training. “You’re still in the gym, two sessions a day. Even when you’re not on your feet, you can always do bars, bike sessions, cardio. It takes a long time. Everyone thinks ‘Ah, you’re injured, you’re on downtime now’, but it’s definitely not like that. It’s more boring than training, so it does get tedious, and you just know you want to be back.”
Ellie’s first surgery was to remove some bone that was floating in her left ankle after injuring two tendons. But after rehab, she found that she was still struggling with the high level moves. “I couldn’t punch the floor hard enough, or get into the angles that I wanted for my floor tumbles or vault,” she explains.
Further investigation revealed that her foot had not healed properly and she needed a second surgery to correct it. This was a disappointing setback, but with the support of her older sister (top British gymnast Becky) she found the determination to overcome it.
“We both had injuries at the same time,” says Ellie. “Obviously injury’s the worst thing that can happen, so we just try to keep each other positive and motivated.”
The difficulty levels of elite gymnastics puts a pounding on the body and there are several top gymnasts currently in rehab from surgery, or recently recovered from serious injuries. “I think gymnastics is getting so much harder,” says Ellie. “It’s just getting crazy now.”
Some think this is because the top star, Simone Biles, is so far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of difficulty, that everyone else is trying to keep up with her. Ellie agrees it could be the case.
“She’s just superhuman, she doesn’t seem to get a lot of injuries, and she’s so strong,” Ellie says. “I think people are trying to keep up with that. She’s super talented, with a really fit little body, and she makes gymnastics look easy.”