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Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Saturday, 1 May 2010 18:35 UK

Great Britain win historic women's European silver

European Gymnastics Championships
Venue: National Indoor Arena, Birmingham Dates: Women's finals 1-2 May
Coverage: Live on the BBC red button on Saturday and Sunday (Full coverage may not be available on Freeview) ; Live then short highlights on BBC Sport website (UK users only); Extended highlights on BBC2 on Tuesday 1300-1415 BST

Becky Downie

GB women secure European team silver

By Ollie Williams
BBC Sport in Birmingham

Britain's female gymnasts thrilled the home crowd as they won their first European Championships team medal, silver behind Russia, in Birmingham.

Beth Tweddle dominated the uneven bars and floor as the women matched the British men's team silver last week.

However, it was the consistency of team members Jocelyn Hunt, Nicole Hibbert, Niamh Rippin and Becky Downie which secured second place ahead of Romania.

"It's amazing. I waited eight European Championships for this," said Tweddle.

"Coming into these championships I honestly didn't think we'd be up there in the top three. The team have outdone my expectations.

"You can see the emotion on our coaches' faces, we've probably done a lot more than they thought originally as well."

Britain's previous best finish in a European team final was sixth in 2008, but this, the latest in a string of medals for home gymnasts at the National Indoor Arena, is further confirmation of a sea change in the fortunes of gymnastics in the United Kingdom.

Everybody stepped it up a level from qualifications. I don't know where all those routines came from but they came from somewhere.

Becky Downie

The novelty of beating nations such as Romania is difficult to overstate, after decades in which Britons placed well down the ranks as former Eastern bloc countries commanded the podium.

Moreover, the gap by which Russia won gold is narrow enough - 1.425 points over 12 performances - that British coaches will anticipate overhauling it in the near future.

The British team began in solid fashion on the vault as Hunt, Downie and Hibbert steered them into third place after the first of the four events.

The combined British score of 41.675 positioned them just behind France, with Russia already almost a point out in front following a mesmerising series of performances on the floor.

Falls for Romania's Raluca Haidu and Italy's Elisabetta Preziosa on beam, and Ukraine's Alina Fomenko on bars, suggested Britain could have a good day if they kept their routines clean, as the competition format means every gymnast's score on each set of apparatus is counted.

Winning team medals, therefore, demands consistency and, while Downie and Hibbert delivered that in style on the uneven bars, superstar Tweddle took her routine to another level.

Her score of 15.850 rewarded a routine which builds in a level of complication nobody else in Europe can touch, and sent Britain into second place, nipping at the heels of Russia, as France dropped back behind Romania at the halfway stage.

The third event, the balance beam, has been the thorn in the British team's side for years, and only a set of clean routines would keep the host nation in the medal hunt.

Hibbert, first up, only just avoided falling at the start of her routine, but recovered to post a cautious but clean 12.925.

Rippin delivered a score of 13.100 in similar fashion in her opening appearance of the day, before Downie produced one of the performances of her life to score 14.100, making GB one of the few teams to get through the beam unscathed.

Beth Tweddle
Tweddle performs on the uneven bars in Birmingham

Though Russia's Tatiana Nabieva fell from the bars, her team remained in front heading into the final rotation, with Britain second, 1.425 points ahead of Romania.

Hunt and Rippin, both, like Hibbert, competing in their first major senior championships, banished their nerves to score 13.425 and 14.350 respectively on the floor, leaving world champion Tweddle last to go, needing just 11.650 to secure the silver medal.

In the event, by far the nation's most dependable gymnast of the last decade harnessed all her skill and experience to score 14.925 and rubber-stamp second place by some distance.

"Going up last on the floor with the whole arena watching me - I was more nervous doing that than I was at the Worlds last year," said Tweddle.

"It means so much more. The team have done all the work, as much as I have."

Downie said: "I'm still shocked, it's a bit surreal. Everybody stepped it up a level from qualifications. I don't know where all those routines came from but they came from somewhere.

"I was quite nervous before beam, I knew I had to stay on it. I did it one step at a time and it paid off."

Russia held their nerve on the beam to win gold with a total of 169.700, just clear of Britain's 168.275, with the two teams well ahead of Romania (164.975) in third.

"It was a very difficult victory," said Russia's Ksenia Semenova. "We made some mistakes, but we still managed to win."

Tweddle will now attempt to defend her two individual European titles in Sunday's apparatus finals, having qualified in first place on both the floor and bars.

She is joined by Downie and Rippin in the bars and floor finals respectively, while Hibbert will compete in the vault final.

Last week, the British men, including Daniel Keatings, Louis Smith and Daniel Purvis, won European team silver in their equivalent of this event, also the best result in their history.

However, the men's team competed in the absence of big names such as Russia, who were unable to attend owing to travel problems caused by the volcanic ash cloud over Europe. All the women's teams expected to attend have, by contrast, made it to Birmingham.

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see also
Gymnastics results
23 Aug 05 |  Gymnastics
Tweddle leads GB into Euro final
29 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
Keatings beats Smith to Euro gold
25 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
Keatings eyes success at Olympics
26 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
Junior GB gymnasts win gold and silver
24 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
GB gymnasts delighted with medal
24 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
GB junior gymnasts retain title
22 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
Volcano fails to halt European Gymnastics
22 Apr 10 |  Gymnastics
Keatings secures historic silver
15 Oct 09 |  Gymnastics
Gymnastics on the BBC
05 Oct 11 |  Gymnastics
Get involved in gymnastics
23 Sep 10 |  Gymnastics

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