Hucknall purrs with pride as gymnast Ellie Downie wins TV award

BELLE OF BELFAST -- 16-year-old gymnast Ellie Downie (right) with her sister, Becky, at the BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year show in Belfast on Sunday night.
BELLE OF BELFAST -- 16-year-old gymnast Ellie Downie (right) with her sister, Becky, at the BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year show in Belfast on Sunday night.

Hucknall sport received one of its most amazing Christmas presents when teenage gymnast Ellie Downie was named Young Sports Personality of the Year on the famous BBC TV show.

Her home town gasped with pride when 16-year-old Ellie was named the winner of the prestigious award at the live show, held in Belfast on Sunday night, after a memorable year in which she made gymnastics history for Britain.

“I was a bit shocked and surprised, to be honest,” said Ellie this week. “I definitely didn’t expect it. My heart was beating so fast when my name was read out!”

The audience gave her a rapturous ovation as she walked to the stage, where she was presented with the trophy by world champion boxer Carl Frampton and record-breaking sprinter Dina Asher Smith.

As she received congratulations from presenter Gary Lineker, she was handed the microphone for what she’d earlier admitted would be a nervewracking and daunting acceptance speech.

But Ellie handled the occasion with the same coolness and aplomb as any major gymnastics tournament. “I would like say a massive thankyou to everyone at British Gymnastics and everyone at my local club, Notts Gymnastics Academy,” she said in front of millions of TV viewers.

“Thanks to my family and friends and everyone who has helped me along the way. Well done also to all the other nominees. Thankyou very much!”

Among those in the Belfast audience was proud mum Helen, who later told the Dispatch from her home off Nottingham Road: “I was honoured to be there.

“It was the first SPOTY event I have been to, and it was much bigger than I thought it would be. It was a good evening and the after-party was really nice.

“We didn’t expect Ellie to win because gymnastics also took the award last year with Claudia Fragapane. It is amazing what Ellie and her sister, Becky, have achieved. It has really taken off. Quite unexpected really!”

In winning the Young SPOTY accolade, Ellie follows in the footsteps of previous winners such as England football captain Wayne Rooney, Wimbledon and Davis Cup tennis hero Andy Murray, who lifted the main award, and diving sensation Tom Daley.

She was nominated for the award after becoming Britain’s first female gymnast to win an individual all-around medal at the European Championships when she landed bronze at Montpellier in France.

She then helped Britain, along with 23-year-old Becky, Fragapane, Amny Tinkler and Ruby Harrold, win their first-ever team medal, again a bronze, at the World Championships, which were held in Glasgow.

All this in her first season as a senior, and in a year when she was also studying hard for her GCSE exams at Rushcliffe School.

In the week leading up to the SPOTY event, Ellie learned that the list of ten nominees had been cut to a shortlist of three. She beat jockey Tom Marquand and para-swimmer Tully Kearney to the coveted prize.

The adulation Ellie received after the show led to an appearance on the Radio 1 Breakfast Show with one of her heroes, Nick Grimshaw, on Monday morning and a photo-shoot in London on Monday afternoon.

But she did find time to post a message to her thousands of followers on Twitter, Ellie said: “An absolute privilege to to win the Young SPOTY award. Thankyou to everyone who has helped me in my career so far and roll on 2016!”

Later, she tweeted: “Made my day getting to speak to Grimmers on the radio this morning!” Grimshaw replied: “Lovely chatting to Ellie and a masive congrats for winning Young SPOTY 2015.”

The year 2016 could well prove to be even more remarkable because it revolves around the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where Ellie and Becky hope to shine for Team GB.

“This has been a year to remember and, hopefully, next year will be even better,” said Ellie.

“It would be amazing if me and Becky both go to Rio. I don’t think two siblings have ever been on one gymnastics team at an Olympics before. It would be great.

“I’ll just go out there and do my best. We’ve been working on upgrades to put into my routines.”

Both Downie sisters are members of the Notts Gymnastics Academy, based at Rushcliffe Leisure Centre, where head coach Claire Starkey was overjoyed after Sunday’s SPOTY success. “We are so proud,” declared the academy’s website.

Starkey helped Ellie develop into a prodigious junior gymnast. She won four medals (one silver and three bronze) at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China, plus a gold, silver and bronze at the European Junior Championships in the same year.

“Gymnastics is an amazing sport,” she said. “I got into it when I was four years old and we need as many young people as possible to get involved.

“I hope I am inspiring a lot of children out there.”