The FIG published a document yesterday titled “Technical Regulations 2020,” which discusses the rules and regulations regarding FIG competitions in the coming years.
Much of the information serves to confirm information we already know, like the format for world championships and world cups for each discipline, age eligibility and other rules pertaining to the athletes competing internationally, what the local organizing committee is responsible for…but in the middle of the document, there’s a section highlighting the special regulations for artistic gymnastics, which includes some updated rules about world championships going forward into the next quad.
We took a deep dive into this document today, and below, we highlight the biggest changes that will affect world championships in the coming years, as well as our thoughts on how these changes will affect the sport and its athletes.
Qualifying to World Championships
World championships are now referred to as “team and individual world championships” in the second and third years of the Olympic cycle (aka 2022 and 2023 in the next quad), and they require nations to qualify through continental championships and apparatus world cups.
Here’s a breakdown of how nations can qualify teams and individual gymnasts:
Criteria 1 – Continental Championships (Teams)
- 24 men’s teams (120 men) qualify through continental championships
- 24 women’s teams (120 women) qualify through continental championships
- For the world championships in year 3 (the pre-Olympic year), the top 8 teams from the previous world championships automatically qualify and do not have to qualify through continental championships in year 3
- Teams may participate at world championships with 4-5 gymnasts and 1 reserve gymnast
Criteria 2 – Continental Championships (Individuals)
- 40 men’s all-arounders qualify through continental championships by name (max. 2 per country without a team qualified)
- 49 women’s all-arounders qualify through continental championships by name (max. 2 per country without a team qualified)
Criteria 3 – Apparatus World Cup Rankings (Individuals)
- 48 men’s apparatus specialists by name (max., 8 per apparatus, 2 per country)
- 32 women’s apparatus specialists by name (max., 8 per apparatus, 2 per country)
- The qualified gymnasts will only be allowed to compete on the apparatus they qualified for
- Gymnasts from a team qualified through Criteria 1 and individuals qualified through Criteria 2 may compete in the apparatus world cup series but will not be eligible to qualify to world championships through Criteria 3
The FIG also notes that federations that don’t qualify a full team can qualify a maximum of five men and five women individually. There are also a number of rules that get into how countries tie-break their own gymnasts if more than five individuals meet qualification standards, as well as rules that break down how unused spots are reallocated to other federations – like if the host country qualifies a team or an all-arounder, their spot will be reallocated to the continent to which the host country belongs – but this is a little too in-depth for us right now so let’s just stick to the basics.
Basically, putting this in a real-life situation, federations will have to send teams to continental championships in 2022 to qualify a full team to worlds later that year, the top eight teams at worlds in 2022 will automatically qualify a full team to 2023 world championships, and then the remaining 16 teams will again have to qualify at continental championships in 2023 to get back to worlds that year.
The FIG has also decided how many teams from each continent are able to qualify to worlds, with Europe getting the most – 13 for both MAG and WAG – while Oceania and Africa each gets only a single team spot.
It seems the FIG just took a look at last year’s top 24 to determine how to move forward. In 2019, Europe placed 14 teams in the top 24, the Americas placed five teams, Asia placed four, and Oceania placed one, so the FIG took away one of Europe’s spots to leave one for Africa – Egypt qualified 25th in 2019, finishing just outside the bubble – but otherwise, the numbers match exactly.
For the men, however, it’s a bit different. 16 of the top 24 teams at worlds last year came from Europe, with Asia placing five teams in the top 24, the Americas placing three teams, and Oceania and Africa both finishing outside. To even things out a bit, Europe is being limited to 13 team qualifiers going forward, while Asia and the Americas get five and four, respectively, and Oceania and Africa will each get one guaranteed team spot.
European Championships has historically been the most competitive and exciting of the continental meets, but now with these qualification rules, it’s looking like the competition is going to heat up even more, with federations now more likely to send top athletes to ensure a spot. It seems unlikely that a top European program will place outside the top 13 at a continental meet, but last year, the Ukrainian men finished 13th exactly, with Norway less than a point behind them, and for the women, Romania also finished almost out of contention, so it’s totally possible that teams we might expect to see in a worlds final might not even make it to worlds as a team.
I kind of like the idea of teams qualifying for world championships, but at the same time, I think it’s going to make life much more difficult for smaller programs that lack depth and must prepare to peak twice in the same year. The Czech Republic, for example, would not have qualified a women’s team to world championships in 2018 based on how they competed at European Championships just two months earlier, but then at world championships, the women finished 24th.
It might not seem like a big deal to most people that the Czech Republic could’ve gotten a raw deal last year, but for smaller programs like these, international results matter not only to grow the program, but to keep the current program running and funded. Many programs that are nationally funded are in trouble as it is, and there are often impossible ultimatums like “if you don’t have a gymnast make the all-around final at worlds, we’re not funding worlds next year.” I can totally see programs cutting funding if a team doesn’t qualify to worlds, and so this is potentially going to have incredibly negative affects for the already struggling small programs, even if they do still have the opportunity to qualify individuals.
For the most part, a team that places 14th at Euros or 5th at Pan Ams isn’t at all likely to make the team final or qualify a full team to the Olympic Games, so I get why the FIG wants to cut it down to just those that would have even a slight chance at getting in, and I get why for the pre-Olympic year it makes sense to limit the field to just those with the biggest chance at qualifying to the Olympics.
But for many of the federations that compete at worlds, it’s not about medaling or making the final or even qualifying to the Olympics. Most of the federations that choose to send full teams to the mid-quad world championships do so because this is the only opportunity they’ll ever have to put a full team out on the world stage, and this experience helps them grow as a program. Taking that away from them sucks, and is a major blow to programs trying to grow the sport.
I also don’t like that programs will essentially have to peak twice a year, first to make it to worlds, and then to do well at worlds. Programs with a lot of depth, like the United States for the women or China for the men, could send B-teams to the qualifiers and things will work out just fine for them, but most countries struggle to put a team together even once a year, and so a lot of teams that could realistically make the top 24 at worlds could end up missing out on worlds entirely.
Take Mexico, for example. Last year, the Mexican team performed incredibly well at world championships, finishing 19th to qualify a full team to this year’s worlds. However, next quad, it wouldn’t have mattered that Mexico looked great at last year’s worlds. That result will essentially be meaningless, because the qualifier to this year’s worlds would’ve been Pan Am Games for Mexico. Going into Pan Ams, a series of injuries and other issues caused about six gymnasts to drop out prior to the competition, and the girls that were left only managed to finish seventh, and they would’ve missed qualifying to this year’s worlds based on this result.
Of course, the Mexican federation could’ve opted to put slightly injured athletes on the Pan Am Games team to hope for the best, but this is incredibly risky, and not fair to the gymnasts. By risking them to put up a top-notch performance at Pan Ams, it could put them in jeopardy for world championships and thus the Olympic Games, as worlds acts as a qualifier for the Olympics.
It looks like the FIG is opening up the individual qualification to 88 men and 81 women, so combined with the teams, both the men and women will have just over 200 competitors, which is pretty similar to what we see now without qualifiers (though that’s assuming all of the all-around and apparatus quota spots are filled; we could end up with less).
As a whole, the qualifying rules won’t be super limiting, and I think there will be very few nations that miss out completely. I also like that by setting a quota standard instead of a minimum score standard, a gymnast with a bad day won’t miss her chance to qualify as long as she still ranks well enough. However, the “standard” they set is so low. Without a qualifier in 2018, a total of 229 women competed at worlds, and this new “standard” allows for 201 women. If you’re only going to cut two dozen people from qualifying, what’s the point of having a standard at all?
Though I’m personally against limiting countries from participating at world championships, I do understand the reasoning for some sort of standard at the world level. We sometimes see some gymnasts at these competitions who would barely be optional-level gymnasts in the U.S. Junior Olympic program, so it makes sense to ensure that the athletes in an elite competition are, in fact, “elite”…but I’m also conflicted knowing that opportunities like world championships is how smaller or newer programs grow, and those smaller programs with almost no resources are now going to be pushed even further back.
I actually happen to love many of the smaller programs who might now be in danger of not getting to compete at worlds. I look forward to qualifications more than any other day at a major championships like worlds, and even though the skill level might be a bit behind for some, many are doing super solid work and are lovely to watch.
Had I not gone to qualifications in 2017, I would have missed out on Bulgarian gymnast Yoana Yankova’s floor routine. With a score of 11.033, she finished 94th out of 111 gymnasts on this apparatus, but she was an absolutely gorgeous performer with some of the best artistry in the field. Had I not gone to qualifications at Euros this year, I would’ve missed the tidy and precise routines from Luxembourg’s Celeste Mordenti, who scored just a 45 in the all-around, but had an excellent day and looked so thrilled to finish strong.
There are dozens of gymnasts who will never make a final at a world cup or continental championships, but the work that they put into their routines and performances to become the top gymnasts in their countries doesn’t make them “less” than a gymnast who can score 15 points higher to be the best gymnast in her country. Olympic gold is realistic for only a few. The majority of gymnasts who spend more than a thousand hours in the gym every year to become the best in their country, many with only the bare minimum of resources, will never get the chance for Olympic gold, but they’ve more than earned the opportunity to compete at world championships and I don’t see the point in taking this away from them.
One of my favorite memories at worlds last year was seeing the utter joy on Cayman gymnast Raegan Rutty’s face as she spent a half hour skipping, leaping, and posing for photos with her country’s flag in the Doha arena after qualifications. Raegan’s highest international all-around score is just a 42.133, but she’s the best gymnast to come out of the Cayman Islands thus far, inspired by a few others who got similar high-level experiences before her, first with Bethany Dikau competing at the Commonwealth Games in 2014, and then with Morgan Lloyd reaching world championships a year later.
Representation matters, and for a gymnast like Raegan, seeing other gymnasts from her program get these opportunities before her is what helped her want to grow and become better so she could take her country’s program even further, and it would be a shame for someone like her to not in turn be able to inspire younger gymnasts to break her records and keep that growth moving forward.
The good news is that for the individual world championships in the first year of the Olympic cycle, any federation is allowed to compete regardless of any qualifying rules, so gymnasts like Raegan will get at least one chance to reach the world stage…but I still feel like allowing every federation the opportunity to send gymnasts to every world championships outweighs the need for setting a standard, especially when the number of athletes attending pretty much will not change.
Based on the numbers, pretty much every nation that opted to attend in 2018 is going to qualify in the future, minus just a handful of countries that will be left out. If they are “setting a standard,” it’s not a very high one, so why not just let everyone compete?
Competing at World Championships
Nothing has changed between this quad in the next in terms of the world championships format, including how many gymnasts will be able to compete. Like this quad, for countries that are eligible to send full teams to worlds in the future, it looks like we’re stuck with just five gymnasts per team, and the team format remains 5-4-3 in qualifications as well as 5-3-3 in the team final.
Additionally, in the team final, the FIG is going to keep up with alternating between teams on each event – e.g. China’s first gymnast vaults, the first U.S. gymnast vaults, China’s second gymnast vaults, the second U.S. gymnast vaults, and so on – which was new to the sport this quad.
The biggest change is that it seems like the FIG is trying to squeeze all 200+ competitors into just a single day of qualifying rather than spreading them over two days.
With just five subdivisions for the women, it means there will be 40 gymnasts in each subdivision, and for the men, we’ll see about 60 in each of the three subdivisions, which is basically double what we have now. Qualifications will now work more like a team final, with two teams (or one team and one mixed group, or two mixed groups) per event rather than just one.
Doubling the subdivision’s size means it’s going to take twice as long to complete each of them, so athletes will have to get used to that adjustment…and it also means the judges will be working almost nonstop from morning until night on these qualification days, which could absolutely affect how they’re scoring between the earlier and later subdivisions.
Another major change is related to the individual world championships in the first year of the cycle, but we won’t see this take place until 2025. In 2021, we’ll still see six men and four women allowed to compete for each country, but the subsequent quad, the FIG is limiting these numbers to just three men and three women.
Something About Brenda made the point that this is going to “totally kill the all-around competition at the post-Olympic world championships.” The biggest reason for this isn’t that only three total can compete, but that only two can compete on each event in qualifications, which allows for either two all-arounders, or one all-arounder and two specialists at most.
For a majority of countries, the all-around final will now be one-per-country for many nations that are depleted in a post-Olympic year and would rather capitalize on apparatus finals. For the men’s competition especially, I wouldn’t be surprised to see most nations send groups of three specialists, with only the very best all-arounders competing all events, and it’s only the deeper programs – like the U.S. women’s program – that would be likely to send two all-arounders who could also be in the mix for apparatus finals.
This would be the most efficient way to capitalize on this format, but most of the “sure bet” apparatus contenders aren’t all-arounders. Thinking about 2017, for example, Russia would’ve been better off putting up Maria Paseka on vault, Anastasia Iliankova on bars, and Elena Eremina on all four than they would’ve been putting Eremina and Angelina Melnikova in the all-around. I’d expect this to be the way of things for most programs.
Article by Lauren Hopkins