Mixed emotions, because postponing the Olympics is the right thing to do, but we can still be bummed. Also, just give me any excuse to use this photo of Aly Raisman winning all-around silver in Rio and I’LL DO IT.
After weeks of speculating how the 2020 Olympic Games could be affected by the coronavirus pandemic currently sweeping the globe, the IOC has made the difficult decision to postpone the Games for “about one year.”
Just over two weeks ago, I was at the American Cup, where gymnasts from all over the world traveled to compete at this qualifier for one of several individual Olympic berths, and everything in the sport seemed to be continuing on without much of a hiccup. Events in Italy, where the outbreak has hit especially hard, were being canceled, and maybe this could affect some of the individuals hoping to qualify, but for the most part it looked like everything was going to carry on as usual, and I didn’t really anticipate the world coming to a halt just a few days later.
Now the American Cup feels like it was about 200 years ago. Just days later, as more and more countries started closing their borders to restrict the movement of the virus, we saw cancellations or postponements of nearly every meet through early May (national championships in Japan are the only meet not yet officially called-off during this time period), and a couple of competitions already in progress for that weekend – including the Baku World Cup and a U.S. elite qualifier – were shut down mid-competition so athletes could safely return home.
Part of me still held out hope for the Games to continue this summer, especially as the virus began to slow in countries like China and South Korea, but with shelter-in-place mandates throughout the world, it quickly became clear that most gymnasts would be unable to train.
Even if we’re able to flatten the curve and eliminate any public health risks in advance of the Games, there’s no way the athletes would be in the competitive shape required to compete at the highest level after missing months of training. Due to this and the lingering public health concerns, several national Olympic committees – Canada, Australia, Great Britain – announced they would not send athletes to the Olympic Games if held this summer, which put pressure on the IOC and ultimately kickstarted the postponement process.
It seriously took me about a week to go from optimistically believing the Games would still take place to practically demanding they be postponed, but I think it’s the best decision both for the health and safety of the athletes as they prepare for competition, and for the general public, especially in Japan.
According to USA Gymnastics, 62% of athletes in contention for the Olympic Games agree that the Games should be postponed, so it’s clear that postponing is a decisive issue for those who hope to compete, especially for those who can’t train or get competitive experience going into the Games.
But there are also many who were planning on competing this summer and may not be physically or mentally able to hold on another year, so as “correct” as the decision to postpone may be, for many gymnasts both in the U.S. and around the world, it’s still heartbreaking to see so many in a prime position to make the team this year have something go wrong in the next year that could lead to them missing out on making a dream come true. And then on the other side, this postponement also opens the door for gymnasts who were injured this year – like Asuka Teramoto, expected to lead the Japanese team this summer until an Achilles injury happened in training, and Courtney McGregor, who hoped to qualify to her second Games at the Oceanic Championships until she ruptured her Achilles at an NCAA meet – to get back in the game.
“For younger athletes like myself who have not peaked yet, the postponement is fine, almost an advantage,” Australia’s Heath Thorpe said on Twitter. “But I really feel for those athletes who were ready to move on from the sport in a few months and start their lives, especially in countries that have no funding.” I think this perfectly captures the mixed feelings so many athletes around the world are going to have right now, and while “more time” can be a blessing to so many, it’s also going to hold others back. It’s for the right reasons, but it’s still rough to take in.
In addition to the pros and cons, the ups and downs, the revamped training plans, there are also about a million questions that come with the decision, especially in gymnastics. With the Games shifted to 2021, will 2005-born gymnasts now be eligible? Will the FIG switch to the updated code of points? What will happen with the remaining individual qualifying competitions? Will 2021 world championships exist alongside the Games?
Most of these can’t be answered until the FIG weighs in. I’m sure they’re working on a backup plan for qualifying the remaining berths…and I hope it’s one that is more simplified than the original plan, given how shattered this year’s plans were with the multiple qualifiers all over the world getting shut down one-by-one. The FIG got lucky that the Games were postponed and that they were given a year to figure everything out, but if something similar happens to cancel multiple qualifiers next year and the Games aren’t affected, it became incredibly evident that there really is no transparent backup plan in place and hopefully some modifications for the future can clear things up.
That said, the eight-part apparatus qualifier is essentially over, with six meets fully completed, one partially completed, and one left to go, as Doha has bee postponed until June. I would hope that with all of the sacrifices gymnasts made to build points over an 18-month period, their points will hold steady and those who are looking likely to take these series titles and earn these Olympic berths will remain in a position to earn these spots.
As for the 2005-born gymnasts being age-eligible, I see both sides of the argument – that it’s “not fair” to the current Tokyo hopefuls to have more competition for these spots, and that it’s “not fair” to the 2005-born gymnasts to not be included – so until the FIG makes a decision, I’m not too bothered by this question.
I personally am more on the side that anyone who is age-eligible to compete as a senior in 2021 should be allowed to compete at all senior-level competitions, including the Olympic Games, because it would be less “fair” to restrict an age-eligible competitor than it would be to add more challenges to those who reached the senior level prior to 2021. The best gymnasts should be allowed to compete, period, and with the 2005-born gymnasts not really planning or preparing to be in Olympic condition until 2024, if anything they’re at a disadvantage compared to those who have been planning to peak in 2020. Moving up your Olympic preparations by three years is a lot harder than hanging on for one more year in most cases, and while there are a few 2005-born gymnasts who could throw a wrench into team situations – most notably Viktoria Listunova for the Russian team – I don’t see most being able to have much of an affect and am not at all against 2005-born gymnasts entering the mix for the 2021 Games.
With the code of points issue, though most of the anticipated code changes are minor (nothing like getting rid of an entire composition requirement!), I don’t think it would be appropriate to change any part of the code just months before the Olympic Games, and would hope the FIG feels the same way. I see them postponing the new code for the 2022-2024 “quad” (triad?) and leaving the current code in place through to the end of 2021 in order to keep everything simplified.
There’s also no word from the FIG so far in terms of what will happen to world championships in 2021, which were slated to take place in late October, but according to Scott Russell, an Olympics reporter for the CBC, he thinks most international governing bodies for various sports will be willing to forgo any 2021 world championship meets in order to “get the Olympics off the ground.”
However, while athlete attendance would likely be pretty low for a world championships held just two months after the Olympic Games, since the Danish federation is already preparing to host a large-scale meet, it would be cool to see something happen along the lines of a wide-scale friendly or Goodwill Games-esque kind of competition, which could provide opportunities for gymnasts who weren’t part of the Olympic conversation, but who are gearing up for the remainder of the quad as they look toward 2024.
We’ll of course be monitoring any Olympics-related news in the coming weeks and months as logistics are worked out. In the meantime, we hope you’re all staying safe and healthy and AT HOME, if you can. It’s tough for everyone right now, and I know the lack of gymnastics is really hard for so many of us who find an escape from the sport. I’m going to try to bring as many You Asked, The Gymternet Answered posts to this blog as humanly possible in the coming days and weeks, and will also be introducing a new series that introduces you to all of the individual athletes – MAG and WAG – who have already qualified to the Olympic Games.
Article by Lauren Hopkins