LONDON (Reuters) - As a double Commonwealth Games gold medalist born more than seven years before her younger sister Ellie, gymnast Becky Downie would like nothing better than to pull rank on her equally talented sibling.
“But it just doesn’t work with Ellie!” exclaimed 24-year-old Becky in a telephone interview with Reuters ahead of next month’s European Championships.
The doppelganger sisters, known as Double Downies, have become the face of British gymnastics after guiding the nation to their first team medal — a bronze — at the 2015 world championships.
Watching them in competition, it is clear they are each other’s biggest supporter, with one of them shouting words of encouragement as the other performs their gravity-defying routines on an apparatus.
But spending almost every waking moment in close quarters is not all about winning glittering medals and sharing celebratory hugs.
“We do just irritate each other in general. Ellie can be quite slow and grumpy in the morning. Ellie’s definitely not a morning person,” Becky said with a smile.
Her 16-year-old sister added: “We can get on top of each other because we’re together all the time. We go to gym together, then we’re at the gym together. We go back home together, then we’re at home together and we travel away together so it can get claustrophobic and crazy.
“I can drive her insane,” Ellie said impishly before dissolving into laughter.
Becky and Ellie know, however, that they must work together to have a shot at creating a unique piece of Olympic history in August — provided they are named in the British team for Rio.
For according to the FIG, the sport’s governing body, no sisters have ever won gymnastics medals at the same Olympics.
While the sport is littered with successful brother acts — with American twins Paul and Morgan Hamm sharing a team silver in 2004 and the Tanaka brothers helping Japan to silver in 2012 — that achievement has so far eluded sisters.
If the Downies achieve the milestone, it will mean the world to Becky, who suffered the heartache of failing to qualify for the 2012 London Games.
“That will be amazing. We know what we’re capable of and one of our best chances (of a medal) will probably be in the team,” said Becky, whose collection includes an asymmetric bars gold from the 2014 Europeans.
“After getting a medal at the last worlds, that is what everyone is pushing towards It will be history as a female team from Britain has never done that at the Olympic Games.
“For me and Ellie, there’s a very good chance we could do it together as a team. It will be very special (to become the first sisters to win Olympic medals in gymnastics) if we can achieve that.”
But to get the chance to accomplish that feat, they first need to make sure they both get selected for the five-woman team heading to Rio.
In a sport where an out-of-place toe or the mistiming of a release-and-catch maneuver by a fraction of a second can make the difference between success and failure, nothing can be taken for granted.
“It could be a win-win situation if both of us get on the team, if not, I’d like to think at least one of us will go,” added Becky, who has a small tattoo of the Olympic rings on her left ankle.
“But it will be very difficult if one makes it and not the other.”
While Becky will draw on the experience of competing at the 2008 Olympics, Ellie is no slouch on the international scene either, having become the first British female to win an all-around medal (bronze) at the European Championships.
If they both make it to Rio, there is one “annoying” thing the sisters know they cannot escape.
“People mix us up all the time. It wasn’t so bad when Ellie was a bit smaller. But now that Ellie has overtaken me in height and she is the taller one, everybody just assumes she’s the older one and addresses her as Becky,” said Becky.
“Everyone gets us confused. Sometimes it’s just funny but at other times it can be really annoying.”
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Ken Ferris