Heading into the weekend, not many Team GB Olympic fans knew who Jessica Gadirova was. Now, the 16-year-old is being hyped ahead of the Tokyo Games, having become a European gymnastics champion and a three-time medallist.
It was a stunning European Championships for the teenager from Aylesbury, who was competing in her first major international competition. She took the event in Basle by storm.
After winning claiming all-around bronze and silver in the vault, she then rounded off her weekend with gold in the floor event, scoring 13.966 when set 13.900 to take the title. With Max Whitlock under performing, Gadirova became Britain’s star in Switzerland.
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Jessica Gadirova competes in her gold medal winning floor routine
Image credit: Eurosport
But what many people may not know is that she is just one half of a twin double act with her sister Jennifer, a former world junior silver medallist, who only missed the Europeans because she had a slight injury.
It is possible that Team GB’s make-up of female gymnastics in Tokyo will be dominated by sibling pairings - the Gadirovas as well as Becky and Ellie Downie - with selection yet to be confirmed.
The new teenagers on the block have been tipped for success for some time. The twins are from an Azerbaijani background and fell into the sport after their mum tried to find an outlet for their energy.
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Speaking to the BBC in 2019, Jennifer said: “When we were young, we used to be all hyper and climbing on everything and our mum put us in lots of sports, we just clicked with gymnastics.”
Britain’s three-time world champion Beth Tweddle says the twins have been on her radar for a while.
"Lots of people involved in gymnastics have been texting me saying how beautiful Jessica is to watch,” she told the Telegraph.
“There’s a lot of love for her on the internet. People have obviously seen her coming through the ranks. I am really excited to see how both the sisters progress through on the senior stage."
Jessica’s success in Basle will send shockwaves throughout the sport with three months to go until the Games start, and naturally the pressure will grow now that she is not under the radar.
Tokyo will be another level, with American superstar Simone Biles likely to dominate her events and challenges to come from the USA team, as well as China. But Jessica’s gold was remarkable given she beat Russian Olympic silver medallist Angelina Melinkova, and Italy’s former world champion Vanessa Ferrari.
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She has proven that she is a force in a sport which traditionally makes champions of young athletes, but given her experience, the pressure will be off in Japan. Her performance seemed to take her by surprise, highlighting the improvements which could still come in the lead-up to the Games.
"I'm speechless, over the moon, jumping for joy,” she said.
Just to even get selected for the European Championships I was so happy and I was so proud to be here. Then to make the finals and win the medals, I can’t believe it.
"I'd been on the podium twice and was getting higher and higher on the steps, then to be on the top was just overwhelming. I just thought wow, I've actually done it.
“As this week has gone along I’ve got more and more comfortable and confident and today just feels incredible."
The one caveat could be that we should not expect too much from Gadirova, too soon, given other gymnasts have struggled in the past. Claudia Fragapane burst on to the scene as a 16-year-old by winning four Commonwealth gold medals in 2014 and followed that up with European silvers in the years following that, but she has not won a major medal since 2017.
The Gadirova twins provide plenty of optimism and excitement going forward, though, and Team GB fans will be looking forward to seeing what they can do in Tokyo.
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