Ellie Downie retires to 'prioritise mental health and happiness'

Ellie Downie
Ellie Downie won four youth Olympic medals

Great Britain’s Ellie Downie has retired from gymnastics at the age of 23 in order to prioritise her “mental health and happiness”.

Downie won 12 medals during her senior career, including a historic all-round European Championship gold in 2017.

She said she made the decision with a “heavy heart and an array of emotions”.

“After a really tough last few years I’ve made the decision to prioritise my mental health and happiness,” said the 2016 Olympian.

“Gymnastics has been my life for as long as I can remember and I am proud of everything I was fortunate enough to achieve.

“Competing and winning medals for Great Britain has meant everything and more to me and I’ll miss it enormously.”

Downie finished 13th in the all-around at the 2016 Olympics despite falling badly on her head during a tumbling routine.

She became the first British gymnast to win all-around gold at a major international championship with victory at the European Championships the following year.

Downie lost her brother Josh in 2021 after he suffered a heart attack during cricket training.

She decided to take time away from gymnastics after her brother’s death and did not go to the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

In 2020, Downie and her sister Becky said abusive behaviour in gymnastics was “ingrained” and “completely normalised”.

Last year, the Whyte review found systemic abuse in the sport in Britain.

Chief executive of British Gymnastics Sarah Powell said Downie was a “trailblazer in how she has reflected on her experiences to challenge and push the sport of gymnastics forward.”

“Her bravery and honesty, privately and publicly, helps shape the future of our sport,” she said.

Powell added that Downie “produced history making performances on the world stage” and “helped lead a ground-breaking group of British women’s artistic gymnasts and in doing so inspired generations of younger gymnasts to reach their goals.”

Downie spoke in depth about her reasons to retire and experiences she had in her career in Dr Alex George’s podcast Stompcast.external-link

In the wide-ranging interview Downie said:

  • Throughout her career her weight was ridiculed with coaches blaming injuries on how “heavy” she was. “If I am sad I want to eat and I feel that is because I was told I couldn’t,” she said. “Some people go to drink or drugs when they are highly emotional and I turn to food. It has given me a tough relationship with food at times.”
  • Her and her sister were “penalised” for speaking out about abuse in the sport and it “hindered” their Tokyo preparation, with their chance of being selected “made very difficult.”
  • Downie claimed she experienced a lack of support and communication from the governing body after she failed to qualify for the Olympics and the death of her brother.
  • Felt “worthless” after only being selected as a reserve for the 2022 World Championships, despite meeting the criteria that was set out for her and it left her “mentally battered”.
  • Claims an email sent to those who competed at the World Championships by national coach David Kenwright said: “We finally put the naysayers to rest”. She that added a performance director called the language in the email “not acceptable”.
  • Said the “wrong person” is in charge of the national programme at the moment.

“I have been mentally burned out from everything that has happened, which has led to the decision,” she added.

“I haven’t felt like it was in my hands necessarily and I didn’t think it would be fair for me to continue and ultimately make my mental health worse. I was so unhappy and not myself.”

In response to the claim in the podcast, British Gymnastics said in a statement: “She’s raised issues that we are already aware of and are being addressed, particularly around the conduct and communication of a member of our coaching team.

“As part of the wide reform of gymnastics being undertaken, we must ensure appropriate behaviours and attitudes are maintained and always reinforced.”

In response to the email claim, the governing body said it “did not meet our standards or reflect our values as an organisation” and a disciplinary process was ongoing.

“Our Performance Director immediately sent correspondence to recipients outlining that some of the language and tone was unacceptable and not in line with our culture and commitment to reform,” British Gymnastics added: “A subsequent discipline and education process took place and this is being monitored as an ongoing process.”

British Gymnastics put together an action plan called Reform ’25 to deliver on the findings of the Whyte Review.

“Our Reform ’25 action plan makes it abundantly clear that abuse, mistreatment, and a culture of fear have no place in gymnastics, and that nothing is more important than the safety and wellbeing of gymnasts and everyone involved in the sport,” the statement continued.

“The reforms we have already put in place in bringing in two new Performance Directors in Tracy Whittaker-Smith and David Hart, together with Scott Hann as Technical Advisor, were made to ensure these kinds of issues were addressed.

“We still need to go further and faster over the next two years of delivering our plans, but the immediate response and subsequent action to deal with this email is a demonstration that progress is being made.”

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