Danusia Francis – putting on a show

“I adore and worship Usain Bolt

Danusia at the 2019 English championships. Photo courtesy Danusia Francis

9 March 2019 – This Saturday, 24-year-old Danusia, a former British gymnast now representing Jamaica, takes part in the Superstars of Gymnastics show in London. It will suit her very well, having competed for college gymnastics in the USA where they like to entertain the audience. I chatted with her after the 2019 English championships. 

One of the highlights of Danusia’s career was competing at the 2011 World Championships, where she was a member of the British gymnastics team. They were determined to make the top eight and qualify automatically for the 2012 Olympic Games, to be held on home turf in London, in the same arena where Superstars is taking place.

She describes those worlds as “monumental in my career, because that was us qualifying to the 2012 games. It was a lot of pressure, and we pulled it off. That was when the GB team was only just around the top eight, so we had to pull off a great competition – and we did.”

The team eventually placed fifth, the best ever result ever for the British women at the time, and it was a very emotional moment. “We’d been at trials and camps for months and months, so I’ll always remember that. Our team really bonded which was amazing.”

However, she was selected as alternate to the Olympic team, so didn’t actually compete in the Olympic Games. The following year she competed in the World University Games and joined the University of California gymnastics team, where she enjoyed a very successful extension of her gymnastics career. 

In 2015 she took advantage of her Jamaican heritage to join the Jamaican gymnastics team – although she nearly competed for a different country altogether.

“I’m half Polish and half Jamaican,” she says. “If I could speak Polish I would have tried out for the Polish team – obviously it’s closer to home so it would have been easier.” But there was another incentive that pushed her towards Jamaica – “I adore and worship Usain Bolt, he’s my idol, so I really wanted to be on Usain Bolt’s team!”

Sadly, history has a way of repeating itself. “At 2015 worlds I qualified a spot to the Olympic Test event for Jamaica, but then they decided to give it to another girl on the team, because she had been competing for them for longer,” she explains. It meant Danusia missed the Olympic Games – again.

After she graduated from UCLA in 2016, Danusia retired from gymnastics and was looking at future careers. “I didn’t plan to carry on gymnastics at all,” she says, “but having missed out so narrowly on both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, I thought, I’ve got to give it one last shot.”

2017 was a year of ups and downs for Danusia – “dusting off the cobwebs,” she says, “just getting back into it.” She hadn’t vaulted in years, so that was one of the biggest challenges. But gradually, she returned to top level, even adding more difficulty than she had had at college, and her first comeback all-around competition was the English championships this month.    

As she now represents Jamaica, Danusia could only compete as a guest, and was ineligible for medals. However, her all-around score put her in third place. 

“This is quite an important year, because at the end of the year hopefully we can qualify for Tokyo, which is the goal,” she says. “So to start off at the English championships and have a great day was brilliant.”

In between training, competing and performing in the Superstars show, Danusia also has a job promoting scholarship opportunities for gymnasts at college in America. She is the Global Gymnastics Manager at College Sports America, a role she loves because she feels she is giving something back to the gymnastics community.

“I’ve been on a scholarship myself at boarding school [in London, from the age of nine] and then at UCLA, so to be able to give people that same experience – it just feels perfect.”

Danusia will be performing alongside Simone Biles, Max Whitlock and a host of British and international gymnastics stars at the O2 arena in London on Saturday 23rd March. 

Amelie Morgan – 2019 English champion

“I’m absolutely over the moon!”

photo copyright Sarah Baldwin/Gym Stars

2nd March 2019 –  In her first year as a senior (she turns 16 in May) Amelie Morgan was delighted to win the English all-around title, which makes her a top prospect for the British championships coming up this weekend. I spoke to her after her win.

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Max Whitlock “we’re looking at the bigger picture”

Max Whitlock of Great Britain after competing in pommel horse qualifications at the 2018 European Championships (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

12 August 2018 – When Max just missed out on the gold medal to Ireland’s Rhys McClenaghan at the Commonwealth Games in early 2018, it set up the prospect of an exciting re-match between himself and Rhys at the European championships in Glasgow. I spoke to Max both before and after the pommel horse final – where a mistake left him in seventh place.

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The young Turks aiming for glory

10 August 2018 – A surprise newcomer to the top tier of European gymnastics has emerged at the 2018 European championships in Glasgow. Turkey are not a team that have featured highly in gymnastics before, but they outscored some of the more experienced gymnastics nations to finish fifth after qualifications, reaching their first ever European team final. I spoke to gymnast Ahmet Onder and coach Aljaz Pegan (a former Slovenian gymnast) before the team finals.

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Battle of the rings: Eleftherios Petrounias (Greece) versus Courtney Tulloch (Great Britain)

Eleftherios Petrounias of Greece (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)
Courtney Tulloch of Great Britain (Photo courtesy Glasgow 2018 via Getty Images)

“every year I see a new Courtney” (Elefterious)

8th August 2018 – One of the toughest apparatus for male gymnasts is undoubtedly the rings, where they must combine brute strength with poise and artistry. One gymnast reigns supreme here: Olympic, twice world and three times European champion, Eleftherios Petrounias. Aged 27, he is aiming for his fourth consecutive European rings title in Glasgow. However, he faces a strong challenge from 22-year-old Courtney Tulloch. I spoke to them both before the rings final at the 2018 European championships.

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Angelina Melnikova (Russia)

“I really love social media”

4th August 2018 – The last European team competition was held two years ago, and the women’s team title was won by Russia. Only one member of that team returned to join the 2018 team in Glasgow – 18-year-old Olympian, Angelina Melnikova. Now a senior member of the Russian team, I spoke to her the day before competition started at the 2018 European championships.

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Marta Pihan-Kulesza (Poland)

“I would have had regrets if I hadn’t tried to come back after giving birth

31 July 2018 – Having competed for many years, 31-year-old Marta made a return to gymnastics after having a baby in 2017. I spoke to her after podium training at the 2018 European championships in Glasgow.

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