“it’s just crazy that I have a medal round my neck”
23 June 2021 – Back in April, Jessica burst onto the scene at her first major international event – the European championships in Basel, Switzerland. The 16-year-old from Aylesbury won three medals – gold, silver and bronze. Since then, she has been selected for the British Olympic team, along with her identical twin sister, Jennifer. Gym Stars spoke with Jessica at the European championships virtual press conferences – read on to hear what she had to say about her success.
Qualifications at the European championships began with a shaky start for Jessica. Her third apparatus, beam, saw her take a tumble which would have been unnerving even for a seasoned competitor. But she took it in her stride, didn’t lose her composure, and went on to her final event, vault, where she calmly executed two great vaults to qualify to that apparatus final in first place.
Jessica also reached the all-around and floor finals, and said afterwards “I am a bit disappointed with how beam turned out, but I sure smashed it on vault and floor today!”
Qualifying to the all-around final in eighth place, you could be forgiven for thinking this competition was about gaining experience for Jessica. But she didn’t make the same mistake on beam this time – she improved her score from 11.433 in qualifications to 13.5 in the final. “That was my main focus – just to do better on that apparatus,” she said later. It certainly paid off, because she found herself on the medal podium with the bronze medal.
She became only the second British woman ever to win an all-around European medal – previously Ellie Downie had won gold in 2017 and silver in 2019. “I think it’s just crazy that I have a medal round my neck,” Jessica said. “Seeing her [Ellie], when I was growing up, she was one of the best gymnasts in Great Britain, and being able to win a medal at Europeans is just unbelievable, and just so crazy.”
More was to come, however. On day one of apparatus finals, she won the silver medal on vault, completing her medal collection the next day with a stunning gold on floor. As the last competitor up, she didn’t let the wait affect her nerves – her routine was light, polished and elegant, performed with charm and confidence.
“I’m so speechless,” she said afterwards. “I didn’t expect anything coming into the competition, I was just so proud of myself for even getting selected [for the European championships]. Making these finals and then winning these medals – I’m just so proud!”
Her floor routine surpassed that of two well-established senior gymnasts – Angelina Melnikova of Russia and Vanessa Ferrari of Italy. “I never expected to be able to beat them or be near them,” said Jessica. “They’ve been in competitions for much longer than I have, so being alongside with them is just incredible because they’re such amazing gymnasts.”
She believes the secret of her success is not putting any pressure on herself. “I just wanted to come out and show Europe what I’m made of and just do the best performance I could. I never get ahead of myself – I always take each day as it comes”.
It’s a strategy her coaches follow. “We’re not here to pile the pressure on,” said one of her coaches, Joshua Richardson, in a TV interview a few days later. “Our tactic was: go out there, focus on her performance, and keep her mind clear; and it all came together”.
It’s a tactic that has served both the Gadirova twins well. Back in March 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Jennifer was the one chosen to represent Great Britain in her first senior international event – the American Cup. It seemed she was the stronger of the two. This time, both of them had been selected for the European championships, but Jennifer had to pull out due to an ankle injury, leaving Jessica to step into the spotlight by herself.
With both sisters chosen to compete at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, it seems the time has come for them to shine together. Gym Stars wishes them and the other British team members – Alice Kinsella and Amelie Morgan – all the best!
The Olympic Games start on the 23rd of July 2021.