Gymnastics great Nadia Comaneci looked on admiringly 18 months ago as the then 17-year-old Ellie Downie became the first British gymnast to claim a European all-around gold medal in Cluj.
Downie’s ascent was as emphatic as it had been unexpected, and ended in one of the sport’s all-time greats backing her to continue emerging towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
But two subsequent ankle surgeries forced that trajectory to a juddering halt, leaving Downie to reconsider her aspirations as she prepares to make her belated return at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar.
Downie said: “After Cluj I could never have expected that I would be sitting out for 18 months, so to get back in this team with the rest of a girls is a really big deal for me.
“Obviously I have expectations for myself but I’m not really feeling them at the moment. Because of my injury, I just have to go out there with the mindset of achieving the best result possible for the team.
“At this stage of my comeback, any individual success that comes along with it has got to be see as a bonus. It’s kind of a nice feeling, going into a major championships with not so much pressure on myself.”
Such was the extent of Downie’s domination in Romania that she came home with a total of four medals, also taking silver on floor and beam, and a bitter-sweet bronze on the uneven bars when her sister Becky crashed off the apparatus.
Like Ellie, 26-year-old Becky will return from long-term injury in Doha, as she bids to crown her own promising but somewhat unfulfilled career with a major medal on that same piece of apparatus.
Launching their ‘Double Downies’ coaching sessions and leotards has proved a welcome distraction for the sisters in the course of their comeback, as was a much-needed holiday together in Mexico.
“Becky and I have been through tough year but it feels like it is really coming back together for us now,” added Ellie. “We know what each other can do but we don’t like to talk about it because of avoiding that pressure.
“I still can’t really believe what happened in Cluj. My target is always to reach floor and vault finals and anything else is a bonus, so to come out as the all-around champion was a strange feeling, but it’s something I can finally start to build on now.”