Nottingham's Becky Downie eyes Olympic medal after 'really challenging' 2 years

Becky Downie pictured at the Team GB Paris 2024 team announcement at the Lilleshall National Sports Centre
-Credit: (Image: PA)

A medal is the goal, says Nottingham gymnast Becky Downie, who is making her return to the Olympic Games after a 'really challenging' couple of years. The 32-year-old will jet off to Paris this summer knowing it'll be her last shot at silverware at the world's biggest tournament.

She will also become the oldest female gymnast to compete for Team GB, something she admits is "pretty remarkable" considering most retire in their 20s. "A medal is definitely the goal, I think I have a bar routine that can put me on the podium," the understated 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist told Nottinghamshire Live.

"It's not going to be an easy task but I feel in a good place." And being in a good place is not something the Mapperley-raised athlete has ever taken for granted.

Get the latest news straight to your phone by joining us on WhatsApp

In 2020, she and younger sister Ellie spoke out about “cruel”, “ingrained” and “completely normalised” abusive issues in the sport. This led to the Whyte Review, published in 2022, which found systemic evidence of physical and emotional abuse within gymnastics in Britain.

Tragically, she also lost her younger brother Josh, who died after suffering a sudden cardiac arrest whilst playing cricket in 2021, aged just 24. It came on the eve of Becky's trials for the Tokyo Olympics, which she was controversially not selected for.

Despite all the trauma, which led to her training away from Lilleshall - the national gymnastics training centre in Shropshire - Becky was determined to make Paris. "I felt I had more to give, I still love the sport and that's probably been the main driver and kept me going," she said.

"The last couple of years have been really challenging. But if I didn't think I could get back to this level with the potential to win a medal I don't think I would've stayed."

While she tries not to think about Josh, who was recently honoured with a mural in Sneinton, in the run-up to the competition, Becky said he is one of the central motivating factors. "I try not to think about it too much going into Paris because it's a lot.

Becky and Ellie Downie with parents Helen and Anthony at Josh's mural
Becky and Ellie Downie with parents Helen and Anthony at Josh's mural -Credit:British Heart Foundation

"It's been so tightly linked to my career and sport in a really difficult way. Going to Paris it's about doing it for myself, for Josh and the family."

Becky, who expects to compete in the bar individual event and on the beam in the team event, said her age meant the squad were in "new territory", adding: "The oldest we had prior to me was Beth [Tweddle] at 28, so we're in pretty new territory being 32 doing artistic gymnastics to this level.

"On the women's side the athletes just didn't survive the programmes long enough to have any kind of longevity. I won't be trying for another games. I'm really excited to coach and to pass on what I know."

Becky, who was awarded an MBE along with Ellie last year for speaking out about issues in the sport, said she was "only seeing good changes" in gymnastics. "For me as an older athlete looking down at the younger squads, the change is massive and that's all we could really ask," she said.

Becky Downie competing in 2019
Becky Downie competing in 2019 -Credit:PA

"You see a lot happier athletes and the kids are able to come up and ask coaches questions, it's a two-way relationship which is how it should've always been. There's still a way to go but from what I've seen it's really encouraging."

Becky has also joined a Venus campaign to tackle skin consciousness, which remains a barrier for many women thinking about getting into sport. "Growing up in a sport where your weight and body image are heavily scrutinised definitely was not the easiest thing," she said.

"The amount of girls that are dropping out of sport because of skin self-consciousness is still concerning and we want to be the faces that can change that. Social media is a really big part, it sways people's views. It wasn't something I particularly grew up with and I can't imagine what it's like when you're so young.

"While you're so young you don't have the knowledge and the skills to have a full understanding of things. Getting them to talk about their feelings and body image and trying to bring out the confidence in them as much as you can is really important."

Sister Ellie retired from the sport last year, aged 23, to prioritise her 'mental health and happiness'.