Ondine Achampong: Speak Softly and Stick the Landing

After doing a profile of Team Japan at the 2022 World Championships, my next task was focus on the British gymnastics program. But while entering British scores from 2021 and 2022 into an Excel sheet, it produced a result that I wasn’t expecting. That being, Ondine Achampong came in first place when calculating who was the most efficient gymnast in the British women’s gymnastics program.

I was surprised by this result not because Achampong was considered a low ranking gymnast, but because Great Britain has Jessica Gadirova and Alice Kinsella. They are two of the best All-Arounders in the world and the natural assumption was they would take the two top spots. The keyword here is “most efficient” gymnast. Jessica Gadirova did have the highest average score while Alice Kinsella led the program by a significant margin in the number of routines performed.

But by the narrowest of margins Achampong had the highest average placement, frequently putting up the 1st or 2nd highest score on a particular apparatus during the team competition. This includes not just Ondine’s performance during the World Championships, but the European Championships as well. I found this symbolic for a number of reasons.

Ondine Achampong is a widely respected gymnast. She is a well known amongst gymnastics fans and is taken seriously as a beam worker. Fans perceive her as a solid member of the British lineup and a relatively young gymnast who is only going to get better with time. Ondine has so many valid reasons to be celebrated as one of the big names of British gymnastics and in many ways, she is.

But Achampong is a fascinating gymnast who competes for a team that is already loaded with fascinating gymnasts that all outrank her in experience. In 2022 the British program produced the “Liverpool Quintet” where Team Great Britain deployed five gymnasts at the 2022 European Championships, and then brought back the exact same lineup for the 2022 World Championships. Creating a situation where the success and identity of British gymnastics rested on the shoulders of a small, tightly knit group featuring Jessica Gadirova, Jennifer Gadirova, Georgia-Mae Fenton, Alice Kinsella, and of course, Ondine Achampong.

It is Georgia-Mae Fenton who has had the longest career amongst the “Liverpool Quintet” and the most well known eponymous skill. As a result, Georgia-Mae is typically the one most widely associated with the leading specialist role amongst British gymnastics. Alice Kinsella is the undisputed workhorse of British gymnastics who typically competes on every apparatus in both the qualifying round and finals during the team competition.

It is Jennifer Gadirova who put up the highest score on any event in the last two years while her twin sister Jessica Gadriova has been the program’s most successful All-Arounder. Most critically, Ondine is the only member of the Liverpool Quintet who didn’t attend the 2021 Tokyo Olympics as either a starting member of the lineup or team alternate. Under these circumstances Achampong has the unusual status of being a well known figure in the gymnastics community, but to some extent an overshadowed gymnast amongst her teammates.

And yet, Achampong has evolved into something of a silent assassin for Great Britain, a gymnast who is highly effective even while operating in the shadows of more famous contemporaries. At the 2022 World Championships the British program won its first ever silver medal in the team competition at an Olympic or World Championship level competition. During Team Finals Ondine competed on two events, but on both occasions she was the top scoring British gymnast on that particular apparatus.

This performance wasn’t so much the exception for Ondine, but a continuation of her entire career as a senior elite gymnast. So far Achampong has competed in three competitions for her program. The 2022 Commonwealth Games, the 2022 European Championships, and the 2022 World Championships. Between qualifying and finals, Ondine has performed 15 routines in the team competition.

Of those 15 routines Ondine’s had the highest team score for that particular apparatus on 6 of 15 occasions, or 40% of the time. Ondine had the 1st or 2nd highest team score for that particular apparatus on 12 of 15 occasions, or 80% of the time.

Of the 15 times Ondine Achampong competed in a team competition, 10 of those routines came under a “4 up” format where at least four gymnasts per team can compete on each apparatus. Of those ten routines, just once did Ondine finish 4th or last place amongst her teammates.

If you think these statistics are being skewed because Ondine competed at the Commonwealth games while Jessica Gadrirova and Jennifer Gadirova were absent, that was not the case. Ondine Achampong still ranks as the most efficient British and English gymnast even when the Commonwealth Games are thrown out of the data.

This is what a “silent assassin” looks like. Ondine may not have as much flashiness as the Gadirova twins when she competes, or perform as often as Kinsella, but Achampong will get the job done for her team when called upon. Going as far as to be so stable and consistent that she can be equally as valuable as any member of her team, even when two of those members rank 3rd and 4th best in the world in the All-Around.

Then there was the 2022 Commonwealth Games where Ondine finished 2nd in the All-Around and was the highest scoring All-Arounder amongst the English program. It was by no means a clean performance as Ondine fell on beam and stumbled on her dismount on the uneven bars. But Achampong led the field on both vault and floor which was enough to salvage her podium prospects. Even on a day that wasn’t exactly perfect, Ondine’s ability revealed itself.

Winning silver in the All-Around at the Commonwealth Games is a noteworthy accomplishment. But Ondine’s performance wasn’t as large of a news story as it otherwise could have been. The 2022 Commonwealth Games was plagued by a triple scheduling overlap where the U.S. Classic and European Youth Olympic Festival were all held at the exact same time.

There was also Australia’s Georgia Godwin who absolutely stole the show at the 2022 Commonwealth Games having won two gold medals and three silver medals. It was a salivating win for a 25 year old gymnast and fan favorite who had the unfortunate distinction of going the last eight years without winning a medal in international competition. It was that particular storyline that resonated with fans when the 2022 Commonwealth Games was discussed in detail.

While Ondine won a pair of silver medals in the individual events, Kinsella won gold on floor exercise while Fenton won gold on the uneven bars. Ondine was the English gymnast who had won the most medals, but her teammates had outranked her in gold. Continuing the pattern where Ondine may not produce the highest scores amongst her teammates, but she will produce the largest amount of quality scores.

As would be the case elsewhere, Ondine Achampong always seems to win quietly. Her success either overlaps with her equally successful cotemporaries, while the shadow of older, more established gymnasts tends to follow her around. Part of what makes it so appropriate to label Ondine a quiet winner is that the reputation extends to her personality.

Ondine isn’t just the least established member of the Liverpool quintet, but her four teammates have had so much more time to build large social media brands and give interviews in prestigious publications. Creating a perception where Ondine appears more reserved than the rest of the team. For much of 2022 it didn’t seem fair to even acknowledge this talking point or make any attempt to validate it. But at the 2022 World Championships in an interview with Gymcastic, Ondine herself personally talked about it.

“To some people I look a little bit shy but I think once you get to know me I’m just completely changed.”

For Ondine, she will always have to contend with finding her own independent identity in the context of a program that is so well known for producing popular figures. But Ondine’s first year in the British starting lineup was truly remarkable and even though she has long been a respected gymnast, there is a lot to be said as to just how valuable she truly is to the British team.

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