When Team GB name their gymnastics squad for the Paris Olympics on Thursday, Becky Downie must do something she has not done in a while — set foot in Lilleshall.

The country house in Shropshire acts as the national training centre for British Gymnastics. Yet, remarkably, Downie has been too traumatised to go anywhere near the place where she would ordinarily be preparing for her third Olympics.

‘I’ve been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around it,’ the 32-year-old reveals to Mail Sport ahead of her return to Lilleshall for the team announcement. ‘They said the symptoms are very similar to PTSD, that Lilleshall was a really triggering place for me. So I have been allowed to do my whole prep from my home gym and to not step anywhere near Lilleshall.’

Downie believes there are two main factors behind her anxiety around the national centre. Firstly, Lilleshall is where she was physically and mentally abused as a young gymnast, something she and her younger sister Ellie detailed when they became the first British team members to complain about the sport’s ‘ingrained’ culture in 2020.

‘I have been going to Lilleshall since I was nine and a lot of stuff has happened there, a lot of things that we still haven’t voiced publicly,’ says the 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist.

Becky Downie will return to British Gymnastics national training centre in Lilleshall as Team GB confirm the squad to compete at the upcoming Olympics in Paris

Becky Downie will return to British Gymnastics national training centre in Lilleshall as Team GB confirm the squad to compete at the upcoming Olympics in Paris

Becky Downie will return to British Gymnastics national training centre in Lilleshall as Team GB confirm the squad to compete at the upcoming Olympics in Paris

The 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist revealed to Mail Sport that she has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around the national training centre

The 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist revealed to Mail Sport that she has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around the national training centre

The 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist revealed to Mail Sport that she has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder around the national training centre

Downie, pictured at Lilleshall in 2016, previously detailed how she and her younger sister Ellie were physically and mentally abused while at the training centre

Downie, pictured at Lilleshall in 2016, previously detailed how she and her younger sister Ellie were physically and mentally abused while at the training centre

Downie, pictured at Lilleshall in 2016, previously detailed how she and her younger sister Ellie were physically and mentally abused while at the training centre

Lilleshall also brings back painful memories of the tragic death of Downie’s brother Josh. He suffered a heart attack aged 24 playing cricket in May 2021, on the eve of Downie’s trials for the Tokyo Olympics. The news meant she missed the trials in Cardiff and, though she was given another chance to try out a few weeks later in Cannock, she was controversially not selected for the Games.

‘As much as my experience around Josh wasn’t at Lilleshall, there was a period when I came back after my brother and it was a really difficult time and I was back there again,’ says Downie.

‘Just really not good experiences. The place became too much. It got to a point where I just knew I couldn’t be there anymore, where I was like, “British Gymnastics, you have to help me with this or I am out”.’

Downie has still not come to terms with the lack of compassion she was shown by British Gymnastics following Josh’s death. After discovering she had not made the Tokyo team, she was given just 48 hours to appeal the decision — a deadline which coincided with her brother’s funeral. ‘The appeal deadline was 11 o’clock and the reason I know that is because that was the start time of the funeral, so I couldn’t do both myself,’ she recalls.

‘I had to pass my email logins to my team to make sure that it came from me and they dealt with all of that while I was having to deal with my family situation.

‘I still struggle with it a lot. You never get over something like that. But what made the situation so much more difficult is that it was so closely linked to my sport, which I am still choosing to do. It was my choice to go back to gymnastics and stay, but it has been very difficult having to work with those same people at times. It has been quite unbearable at stages.’

Brother Josh Downie, passed away after suffering a heart attack during a cricket nets session, days before the sisters were due to trial for the Olympics team in Cardiff in 2021

Brother Josh Downie, passed away after suffering a heart attack during a cricket nets session, days before the sisters were due to trial for the Olympics team in Cardiff in 2021

Brother Josh Downie, passed away after suffering a heart attack during a cricket nets session, days before the sisters were due to trial for the Olympics team in Cardiff in 2021

Downie admits the events of 2021, including a lack of compassion shown by British Gymnastics, have remained at the forefront of her thoughts during the Paris selection process

Downie admits the events of 2021, including a lack of compassion shown by British Gymnastics, have remained at the forefront of her thoughts during the Paris selection process

Downie admits the events of 2021, including a lack of compassion shown by British Gymnastics, have remained at the forefront of her thoughts during the Paris selection process

The Downie family celebrated Ellie, left, and Becky, right, being made MBEs in the New Year's Honours for 'services to gymnastics' which they received at Windsor Castle in March

The Downie family celebrated Ellie, left, and Becky, right, being made MBEs in the New Year's Honours for 'services to gymnastics' which they received at Windsor Castle in March

The Downie family celebrated Ellie, left, and Becky, right, being made MBEs in the New Year’s Honours for ‘services to gymnastics’ which they received at Windsor Castle in March 

Unsurprisingly, the events of 2021 have been at the forefront of Downie’s thoughts during the selection process for Paris. Another reminder of what happened to her brother comes from the regular heart screenings she now has to have, given fears Josh’s condition could be genetic. So far, the tests have come back clear.

As her own tribute to Josh, Downie has had a heartbeat tattooed on her left wrist. She also has a five-point star inked on the fourth finger of her right hand, symbolising the ‘Downie five’ — her and her four siblings.

‘It’s supposed to be a star but it ended up looking more like a splodge,’ she says with a smile. ‘I quite like that it’s dysfunctional because I feel like it represents us all down to a tee.’

At the end of last year, the Downie family finally had something to celebrate, when Becky and Ellie were made MBEs in the New Year Honours for ‘services to gymnastics’.

Downie sees the gong — which she received from the Princess Royal at Windsor Castle in March — as validation that she and her sister were right to speak out about gymnastics’ appalling practices. ‘It showed that what we did was a good thing,’ says Downie, whose evidence formed part of the damning Whyte Review in 2022, which found abuse to be ‘systemic’ in the sport.

‘It contributed to that change and that’s why gymnasts are happier. They are able to go to dinner and eat what they want and they aren’t being weighed anymore. For me, the MBE will probably be my biggest achievement in the sport, regardless of what happens in the summer at the Games.

‘Medals are incredible but they are forgotten. The impact that we have managed to have across the whole of British Gymnastics means everything. It’s a legacy to last a lifetime.’ Downie remains passionate about pioneering positive change. She is speaking to Mail Sport from an inner-city school in London, where she is part of a Venus campaign to tackle skin consciousness, which has been identified as a major barrier in sport for women.

Sadly, Downie knows all too well the effects of image insecurity, having suffered ‘heart-wrenching scrutiny’ about her own body and weight. Last year, her sister Ellie retired from the sport aged just 23 to prioritise her ‘mental health and happiness’.

Somehow, though, Downie has carried on, even though she suspects some at British Gymnastics would rather she had given up.

Becky, left, believes the honour shows she and her sister were right to speak out about practices in gymnastics,with their  evidence part of the damning Whyte Review in 2022

Becky, left, believes the honour shows she and her sister were right to speak out about practices in gymnastics,with their  evidence part of the damning Whyte Review in 2022

Becky, left, believes the honour shows she and her sister were right to speak out about practices in gymnastics,with their  evidence part of the damning Whyte Review in 2022

Downie is supporting a Venus campaign to tackle skin consciousness, which has been identified as a major barrier in sport for women

Downie is supporting a Venus campaign to tackle skin consciousness, which has been identified as a major barrier in sport for women

Downie is supporting a Venus campaign to tackle skin consciousness, which has been identified as a major barrier in sport for women

‘I really didn’t want British Gymnastics to just end my career,’ she says. ‘I genuinely believe that at that point in time there were people who were intentionally trying to do that.

‘Certain people have gone now and there are some better people around who have been really supportive. But I wanted to finish on my terms and not because others tried to force me out. I knew I wanted another shot.’

And that shot will come next month in Paris, when Downie competes in her third Olympics — 16 years after her first. After all the lows, she is determined to end her career on a high by winning a medal in the uneven bars.

‘I do think I have a pretty strong routine to contend,’ she adds. ‘But regardless of the result, I just have to be proud that I stayed through so much.’

As the official razor of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, Venus is proud to be partnering with Team GB athletes sharing powerful personal skin stories to secure a positive legacy for women’s sport.

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