There have been tumbles and tears, doubtless the odd bruise too. Crises of confidence that required reassurance to repair. Even since arriving in Munich for these European championships, Jessica Gadirova felt her belief waver under the microscope with errors often invisible to the naked eye.
On Sunday, though, the 17‑year‑old gymnast was resolute and rigorous and the reward was gold in the floor exercise and a successful defence of her continental crown.
Skipping and leaping with the greatest of ease, Gadirova headed her rivals with a score of 14.000 with her twin sister Jennifer fifth.
A team silver-medallist here already, this was a level above, validation for skipping the Commonwealth Games to give this her all.
And for occasional moments of damaging deflation, including a slip on the beam during qualification, where she simply had to push through.
“I just tried to put them behind me and just keep moving forward and try to forget about what happened,” Gadirova declared.
“Because those don’t really define me. I know who I am and I know what I’m capable of. And I think it definitely shows that I’m capable of achieving great things.”
Silver and bronze were secured by the Italian duo Martina Maggio and Andrea Andreoli but Gadirova’s gold supplemented a silver on the balance beam for her compatriot Ondine Achampong who was bested only by Germany’s Emma Malewski. A newcomer since team bronze was acquired by the British women at the Tokyo Olympic Games last summer, there are now high standards to match.
“It does come with an expectation,” Achampong, 18, said. She has deferred an academic offer to the University of California until after the Paris 2024 Olympics. “That drives you on because you can’t slack off. You have to be working at your best every single day.”
Meanwhile the UK’s rowers produced a Sunday flourish to top the final standings with 10 medals from these Europeans.
It was a positive testimonial for the refresh instigated by the sport’s performance director, Louise Kingsley, since she took charge following a nadir of just two medals in Tokyo.
There was a gold in the lightweight women’s double sculls for Emily Craig and Imogen Grant and silver in the women’s fours, while the PR3 mixed coxed four matched their Paralympic triumph.
Amid the inevitable generational turnover, there has been some cultural shift in the cause of restoring lustre lost. Kingsley, a former coach, examined the formula and made her tweaks. We’ve always looked at crews that have got fantastic physicality,” she said.
“But I guess where we’re heading now is that you can’t be top of the podium with just physicality. You’ve got to row well.
“And that’s probably the trademark you’re starting to see with some of our crews. It’s the quality of their technical rowing that makes best use of their physiology. And that gives resilience. So you’ve got the psychological edge as well.”
Craig and Grant were more than five seconds clear of their French rivals while the PR3 crew of Francesca Allen, Giedre Rakauskaite, Edward Fuller and Oli Stanhope routed the field by 19 seconds but narrowly missed a world-record time they had sought as a tribute to their cox, Erin Kennedy, who is stepping away to fight breast cancer.
In the merciless world of British Cycling, Jack Carlin has been dubbed Long John Silver. On Sunday night, for the seventh time, the Scotsman came off second‑best at a major championship, losing the men’s sprint final to France’s Sébastien Vigier.
Crueller still that the Olympic bronze medallist won the opening leg, only for his rival to level by a tiny margin in the second before a demolition in the decider that led to Carlin collapsing with exhaustion as he departed the track.
The Englishman Hamish Turnbull lost out on bronze, beaten 2-0 by another French rider, Rayan Helal.
Elsewhere, at the European Aquatics Championships in Rome, James Wilby – who ended fellow Englishman Adam Peaty’s long unbeaten streak at the Commonwealth Games – struck gold in the 200m breaststroke in 2:08.96.
There was a silver medal for Freya Anderson in the women’s 200m freestyle and a bronze for the British quartet of Tom Dean, Jacob Whittle, Matt Richards and Ed Mildred in the men’s 4×100 freestyle relay.