Ellie Downie became the first British gymnast to be crowned a European all-around champion after a thrilling finish saw her edge Hungary’s Zsofia Kovacs to claim gold in Cluj.
The 17-year-old had trailed her rival throughout but nailed a dramatic final floor routine to beat Kovacs by just 0.333 of a point with Melanie de Jesus Santos of France a relatively distant third.
It was just crazy when I discovered I’d won and I don’t think it will actually sink in for quite a while.Britain’s Ellie Downie
Watched by Romanian gymnastics great Nadia Comaneci, who won the same title for three consecutive years from 1975, Downie maintained the form which has also swept her into an unprecedented all four individual finals this weekend.
And to cap a great day for the relatively inexperienced British team, James Hall held his nerve to grab a bronze medal in the men’s all-around event behind Ukrainian star Oleg Verniaiev.
While Hall’s success came as something of a surprise, big things had been expected of Downie since she qualified in first place for the final earlier this week, including ranking first in both floor and vault.
But it was fellow 17-year-old Kovacs who got off to a better start on the latter and she held on to her slender advantage through bars and beam routines before a relatively safe floor exercise gave Downie her chance.
The Nottingham teenager seized it with a score of 13.833, enough to give her a total of 55.765 and nudge Kovacs into the silver medal position.
Downie said: “It was a fight for me out there because I was always second.
“But I knew when I saw her floor score come in that I had done better than that in qualification.
“Obviously I was aware of where I was standing throughout but I tried to ignore her scores and just focus on myself.
“It was just crazy when I discovered I’d won and I don’t think it will actually sink in for quite a while.
“I’ve definitely surprised myself in the last couple of weeks. I had to have two weeks off after the British Championships because I had to rest my foot, so to come out here and win gold is amazing really.”
Downie will now turn her attention to the individual finals this weekend, where she will compete in floor and vault as well as being joined by her older sister Becky in beam and bars.
Downie, who won European all-around bronze in 2015 when she was just 15, added: “My main target was the all-around and I just wanted to do better than I had done two years ago.
“To be honest I wasn’t expecting to be European champion. I was happy to take any medal that came my way but the gold is just amazing. Now I can go into the finals with a chance of more medals and enjoy competing with Becky.”
Hall’s medal also came in dramatic fashion as he completed a risky high bar routine on his final piece of apparatus to narrowly keep Russia’s Nikita Ignatyev at bay.
Afterwards Hall, who also has the individual high bar final to come, admitted he had sometimes doubted his ability to medal at a major championships after a series of near-misses on team selection.
Hall said: “It’s hard to admit that this medal has not always been a prospect. I’ve failed to make the team so many times that I’ve been left wondering how hard I have to work to make it.
“But in the past few months I’ve really started to believe in myself and what the guys achieved in Rio really motivated me 100 per cent. I’ve justified that by coming away with a bronze medal.”
Ukraine’s Olympic silver medallist Oleg Verniaiev won gold with a score of 85.866, with Russia’s Artur Dalaloyan second on 85.498 and Hall in bronze on 84.664.
In another boost for the next generation of British gymnastic talent, 18-year-old Joe Fraser took a break from revising for his business A-level exam next month to finish a creditable fifth.
Hall admitted he had to cope with the extra pressure of knowing Ignatyev had pipped him in similar circumstances in a recent World Cup in Stuttgart and was determined to avoid another near-miss.