Gymnastics-Britain's Ellie Downie retires to prioritise mental health and happiness

Team GB - Rio 2016 Gymnastics Team Announcement

LONDON (Reuters) - British gymnast Ellie Downie announced her retirement aged 23 "with a heavy heart" on Monday, saying it was time to prioritise her mental health and happiness after a tough few years.

Downie was the first Briton to win a major all-around title when she took European gold in 2017 and ends her career with 12 medals at world and European level.

She competed at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, along with older sister and 2019 world uneven bars silver medallist Becky, but in 2021 decided to take time out of the sport following the death of her brother Josh.

"To say it's been a difficult decision is a massive understatement, but after a really tough last few years, I've made the decision to prioritise my mental health and happiness," she said on Twitter.

Both sisters spoke out in 2020 about the emotional scars from their careers and said abusive behaviour in gymnastics training had become "ingrained" and "completely normalised".

A review published last year found British gymnasts were subjected to widespread physical and mental abuse in a system focused on the pursuit of national and international success.

Ellie Downie said in 2020 that she had been told consistently to diet since she was 14 and the "never-ending focus" on her weight had left deep scars that she suspected would never be healed.

British Gymnastics CEO Sarah Powell hailed Downie as a "trailblazer" who undoubtedly had a future role to play in the sport.

"Her bravery and honesty, privately and publicly, helps shape the future of our sport," she said in a British Gymnastics statement on Monday.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Ken Ferris)