17-year-old Ellie Downie was ready to follow up her nearly unbroken run of success—four medals at the 2014 Youth Olympics, a team bronze at the 2015 World Championships and team, vault and floor exercise silvers at the 2016 European Championships—with a history-making turn at the Rio Olympics.
A scary fall onto her head put that dream in jeopardy in the women’s gymnastics qualification round. Downie had gotten through uneven bars and balance beam, the two events where falls most often occur, without incident. The third event was floor, where Downie usually shows off her naturally powerful tumbling.
But around the halfway point of her routine, Downie tried to perform a flip with two-and-a-half twists directly into a tucked front flip. But she didn’t have enough control to get her body completely around, and landed directly on her head and neck.
Downie quickly picked herself up and tried to finish her routine, but before her final tumbling pass she shook her head and stepped off the competition mat. Her coach and medical staff swooped in to assist her out of the arena.
She reportedly told media, “I heard a crunch and they put me in a wheelchair.”
The British women still had one event left, vault, which also happens to be one of Downie’s best events. Downie even hoped to qualify for the vault final with her two high-difficulty vaults. Instead, it seemed her Olympics might be over.
But then Downie, with the Union Jack-colored lion on her leotard perhaps giving her strength, returned. With both the arena and her teammates—one of whom is her older sister, Becky Downie—screaming their support, she did her two vaults as planned and landed them both strongly. It was enough to help the British women into third place in the team rankings. With just five teams left to compete in subdivisions 4 and 5, Team GB is assured a berth in Tuesday’s eight-team final.
Downie also amazingly finished 12th in the all-around rankings, giving her a good chance to compete in the individual final. Before the fall, she posted a score of 14.866 on uneven bars and is currently ranked fourth, giving her a strong shot at that event final as well.