Jessica Gadirova – rising star

“it’s just crazy that I have a medal round my neck”

Jessica’s final pose on floor (photo courtesy Basel 2021 )

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. 

Flying high on the uneven bars
(photo courtesy Basel 2021)

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.

Ellie Downie – back in the medal hunt

“Gymnastics is getting so much harder”

Elissa Downie of Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

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.

Continue reading “Ellie Downie – back in the medal hunt”

Amelie Morgan – 2019 English champion

“I’m absolutely over the moon!”

Amelie Morgan of England & Great Britain (photo by Sarah Baldwin / Gym Stars)

11th March 2019 –  In her first year as a senior (she turns 16 in May) Amelie Morgan was delighted to win the English all-around title, which makes her a top prospect for the British championships coming up this weekend. I spoke to her after her win.

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Battle of the rings: Eleftherios Petrounias versus Courtney Tulloch

Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)
Courtney Tulloch of Great Britain (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

“every year I see a new Courtney” (Elefterious)

8th August 2018 – One of the toughest apparatus for male gymnasts is undoubtedly the rings, where they must combine brute strength with poise and artistry. One gymnast reigns supreme here: Olympic, twice world and three times European champion, Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece. Aged 27, he is aiming for his fourth consecutive European rings title in Glasgow. However, he faces a strong challenge from 22-year-old Courtney Tulloch. I spoke to them both before the rings final at the 2018 European championships.

Continue reading “Battle of the rings: Eleftherios Petrounias versus Courtney Tulloch”