The FIG Answers Our 2021 Questions

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Viktoria Listunova riding in on her unicorn to steal your gold

I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about all of the technicalities related to the Olympic Games getting pushed to 2021, and I haven’t wanted to answer them because without any insight from the FIG, my answers would’ve only been speculation.

But yesterday, the FIG released a document that gives finite answers to most of these questions for us, from the age eligibility issue to qualifications, so I’m going to explain everything to you and what it all means as we go forward into our new Olympic year.

Age Eligibility

The FIG decided that “the age eligibility criteria in the Olympic qualification rules must be amended, in order to line up with Article 5.2 of the FIG Technical Regulations specifying minimum age in the year of the competition for senior competitions and the Olympic Games.”

Now, this sounds a bunch of words that don’t make sense, but what it’s saying is that the Olympic age eligibility has to match the age eligibility for the other competitions that year. Since the birth year for eligible athletes next year is 2005, the FIG is saying that the Olympic eligibility has to match, meaning that gymnasts born in the year 2005 will be allowed to compete in Tokyo.

As I’ve said when discussing this previously, I don’t feel super strongly either way about this, one issue aside. Some people say it’s “unfair” for current seniors to suddenly have additional competition, but on the other side of things, it also would have been “unfair” to restrict gymnasts from competing at the Olympics when they’re the correct age to be competing.

While it does suck for current gymnasts to have a bit more depth added making it harder for them to earn spots, there’s really no argument besides “it sucks,” whereas a gymnast who turns 16 next year could have legitimate legal recourse within the Court of Arbitration for Sport if she were held back from competing despite being the correct age. You could argue that it’s unfair to have a last-minute rule change for those who are already in the middle of the game, but since it will really only affect gymnasts being named to teams that have already qualified, and won’t affect those still attempting to qualify in individual spots, then even this isn’t enough to make it a concern beyond “it’s not fair to some athletes who could miss out on a team spot if they can’t prove themselves for the team over someone born in 2005.”

The best compromise I heard related to all of this was one that said “since it’s still the 2020 Olympic Games just held a year later, they should freeze everything as if it was still the year 2020 despite the actual date” and that, to me, was the only case for restricting the age eligibility to those born in 2004 or earlier. But because a total freeze isn’t actually happening from the top down under the IOC, the only “fair” decision would have been allowing 2005-born gymnasts to compete.

No matter the way of the decision, some gymnasts were going to benefit and others would have been negatively affected, so either way, there would be people who wouldn’t be happy with it. Both sides of the decision have pros and cons, and both sides have legitimate arguments as to why one option is better than the other.

A positive of having 2005-born gymnasts made eligible, for example, is increasing the depth within countries that really struggle to have enough seniors to flesh out a team, especially given the year-long extension that will undoubtedly result in injuries and retirements among those who would have been contenders this year.

But for me, the biggest negative is that many gymnasts born in 2005 who had been planning to push for the 2024 Olympic Games will now feel the pressure of moving their goals up by three years to get ready for 2020. One parent of an elite gymnast born in 2005 said that this makes her “nervous” regarding her daughter’s pacing going forward, and while I’d hope that coaches now in this position see this new opportunity as something to work toward but not something to make an absolute goal, there are absolutely going to be a few who want to take things to the extreme and really push for this, and that scares me.

I think pacing is incredibly important in the sport, and use Simone Biles in 2012 as an example. Biles was held back a bit in what she could physically do throughout her career, and given upgrades piecemeal so that she was never doing more than she could mentally handle. If the Olympic Games in 2012 had to be pushed back a year, Biles absolutely would have been a top contender for the U.S. team, and with her skill and talent level, she probably also could’ve won all-around gold in London. But having been paced to focus on worlds in 2013-2015 and then the Olympic Games in 2016, bumping up that schedule could have had drastic consequences because aside from upgrading and working on consistency to gain a spot, the pressure alone in doing something like this would be enough to take down even the mentally toughest competitors.

I’m sure there are some 2005-born athletes in this position who wouldn’t be mentally rattled by something like this at all, and I’m glad that they will have the chance to give it a go, because if they can prove that they’re the best in their country and can handle this kind of pressure like it’s nothing, then they absolutely deserve to be on the Olympic team next year, or at least get the chance to try. I don’t think limiting them to protect others is necessary or fair.

But I of course see the potential risks arising for kids who aren’t as mentally ready for something like this, yet feel pressured to try because a coach or parent or national team head is putting that pressure on them, and that’s what could be dangerous. I just hope each individual circumstance is handled in a way that’s best for each individual athlete, and that there are safeguards put in place within national programs to ensure that athletes aren’t being given more than they can realistically handle in these circumstances.

Olympic Qualifiers

The good news for qualifications is that essentially nothing has changed, aside from the dates of the qualifying competitions themselves. Right now, all of the remaining all-around and apparatus world cups are postponed, as are the five continental championships that were supposed to take place over the next month, but the FIG is essentially saying that all of these competitions once postponed will still work exactly the same as if they were happening in the spring as expected.

There aren’t any set dates for these competitions in the future, but the governing bodies for both Asian Championships and European Championships have suggested October, which is about on par with the postponement dates for other major events happening throughout the world right now.

Of course, with gymnastics, you also have to factor in training time, so while the October timeline for the world cups and continental championships might be manageable in terms of limiting public health concerns, it obviously isn’t going to work out super well if athletes can’t get back to their gyms until August or September, in which case we’ll probably see another push on these expected dates, but I’m being cautiously optimistic and hope that this timeline ends up working out, if only so the final gymnasts who need to qualify can have their berths confirmed before the end of the year.

The Baku World Cup

The FIG also decided that since Baku was cut short before finals could begin, they’re going to count the qualification results as the final results, which is another decision that’s great for some gymnasts while hugely terrible for others.

Most notably, this decision ends the Olympic dream for some, as certain event rankings can no longer mathematically be changed. For the women, no one can beat Fan Yilin on bars, Urara Ashikawa on beam, or Jade Carey on floor, and with Carey likely to also win the vault series title, she would then qualify to the Olympics based on her vault results via the tie-breaker rules, opening up floor for Lara Mori, who also becomes mathematically unbeatable if Carey’s floor points are reallocated to her (and if the points aren’t reallocated, because who knows what the FIG is gonna do, then it would be between her and Vanessa Ferrari at a final showdown in Doha).

For these women to essentially have their Olympic berths 99.9999% confirmed at this point, it’s obviously a huge relief, but there have been others who have absolutely been “screwed” by the Baku decision, pardon my French. Most gymnasts don’t compete in qualifications the way they would in a final, so for gymnasts like Emma Nedov, Anastasiia Bachynska, and Rebeca Andrade – all of whom could have still mathematically taken the beam series title along with Ashikawa going into Baku – it’s going to be cause for disappointment and possibly even legal battles.

Take Andrade, for example. With 30 points toward qualifications prior to Baku, she had the opportunity to win the series title with wins in both Baku and Doha. She ultimately finished a half tenth behind Ashikawa in Baku qualifications, after a long day where 32 gymnasts competed on this event with breaks spread throughout to give judges time in between subdivisions. Even if they competed the same exact routine in finals, seeing Andrade and Ashikawa more back-to-back in a final could’ve completely changed the ranking outcome between the two, and had Andrade won there, it would’ve given her 60 points, keeping her in the mix to take the title in Doha.

But instead, Ashikawa gets the win based on her qualification result in Baku, which ends the beam battle completely, as she now has 90 points, and no one will be able to beat that point total in Doha.

Now granted, Ashikawa came into the beam conversation super late and started dominating instantly, with wins in both Cottbus and Melbourne to easily jump from not being ranked at all to sitting in third on the rankings list going into Baku. She’s been incredible in her fight for this berth, and based on how she competed, it was super likely that she was going to earn this spot. But in a sport where anything can happen, especially on beam, it should not have been a guarantee just yet with so many other gymnasts still in the mix going into Baku.

For gymnasts like Andrade, Nedov, and Bachynska, the fight should not yet be over, and given that this “qualifications count as finals” rule is something the FIG came up with on the fly rather than something they decided on in advance, they should all have recourse for fighting this in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

I will say, though, it’s gross to see people tweeting these athletes and telling them that they “deserve” the spot more than the person who “stole” it from them. No one’s stealing anything, not Ashikawa, not Fan, not any 2005-born gymnast who makes an Olympic team. They’re benefiting from the FIG’s decisions that other gymnasts happen to not benefit from, but it’s not their fault, so stop being dumb.

Everything Else

As for the code of points, the FIG has opted to keep the current code in force until the 2021, with the subsequent code beginning on January 1, 2022, and the updated code will now be published next year to “avoid any confusion.” I think this is something we can all agree is best for literally everyone involved, so thankfully there is no need for any wild debate here.

The best news that came out of this document is that in addition to the Olympic Games set to take place in the summer of 2021, the FIG is also continuing to plan on the 2021 world championships happening in Copenhagen, Denmark in October of that year, meaning we’ll get two major international competitions within the span of about three months.

I’m hoping that with worlds still on, coaches of gymnasts born in 2005 will continue to make this their focus, and if the Olympics also happen to work out for them, great, but if not, they can continue on with their senior competitive plans as they would have as if the coronavirus outbreak didn’t completely shut down the sport in 2020.

Article by Lauren Hopkins

27 thoughts on “The FIG Answers Our 2021 Questions

    • Thank you! Trying to see all sides of the story here…I get why a lot of people are getting upset because someone like Konnor or Skye entering the mix means one of their faves who seemed like a lock for the U.S. this year could no longer be as secure, but this has nothing to do with how or why the decision was made and I don’t think people understand that!

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  1. I think the Baku decision is utter garbage and should be challenged immediately. It’s so unfair to have quals count for a final result. I hope FIG gets sued over it because you’re right, a lot of gymnasts are going to be completely screwed over because of this, both men and women. I like that they’re keeping the current code, I appreciate that they’re just pushing the qualifying events back instead of changing all that, and I can tolerate 2005-borns in the mix, even though I don’t agree with it. But with the Baku decision, I can’t get behind it under any circumstances.

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    • Yeah, the beam issue is the biggest one to me because while the rest of the events (especially for the women) have basically been low-key decided for months now with no likely upsets, beam was looking ready to go down to the final competition. Had Ashikawa won the final in Baku, it would belong to her fair and square, but with Andrade right on her tail in qualifications, I think we really could’ve seen quite the fight for this one and it’s incredibly unfair to determine *after the fact* that the qualification round would be it. All of the debate is around the 2005-born gymnasts, but this Baku decision should be the real issue.

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  2. Gymnasts who were born in 2005 should not be allowed to compete. Despite the date change, the event will still be Tokyo 2020, and these gymnasts should wait until 2024. FIG is absolutely lost.

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    • I think if the IOC had said that Tokyo 2020 would be “frozen” with all rules sticking to the year 2020, then this would be a legitimate argument against having 2005-born gymnasts eligible to compete, but because the IOC didn’t “freeze” the event, the FIG can basically do whatever they want regardless of whether the event is called “Tokyo 2020” or not. Officially, it’s not even really “Tokyo 2020″…it’s the “Games of the XXXII Olympiad” with no year attached, so again this really would’ve had to have been an IOC decision to keep everything frozen in 2020.

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      • Different federations have different rules too. In 2015 aquatics worlds (I think it was 2015) there was a 10 year old swimmer from Bahrain because the world aquatics federation doesn’t have age limits and i think she competed in Rio too. The IOC don’t have age limits, it’s up to the individual federations, so technically any sport can do whatever they want regarding eligibility even had the Olympics not been postponed.

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      • I’m now worried about Konnor. I read NBC sports article on the decision (which pretty much soley focuses on Konnor/her family’s perspective) and her mom especially is heavily implying that they plan on pushing all the upgrades that they planned on slowly putting in for 2024 for next year. Of course we won’t know until she meets with her coaches and starts training again, so I really hope her coaches are not on the same page as her mom.

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        • Yeah, I feel like a lot of parents are going to be behind pushes like this…and I’m not surprised Konnor’s are. They’ve had YouTube videos up for her since age four calling her “the best four-year-old gymnast in the world” and got her onto Steve Harvey when she was ten…as someone who came up in theater and saw lots of pushy stage parents behaving this way and who would “do anything” for their kid to succeed…it’s scary, especially because in gymnastics, they can pull the “we’re paying YOU” thing with coaches to make them do things the way they want. But hopefully Konnor’s coaches have some sense about this and will stand their ground I guess.

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        • At first the article seems harmless, with her mom like “making trials would be great since she’s so young”, etc, but these are the last lines of the article and worry me the most:
          “McClain’s coach and McClain’s mom, friends since childhood, briefly texted about the new situation while still in shock.

          The gist?

          “Wow, it’s going to be a rough year,” Lorinda McClain said. “She’s got a lot of work to do.””
          Keep in mind this comes right after discussing how they had placed upgrades on the back burner because they thought they had four years— although they should still think about it the same way. So it looks like her coaches are in agreement with her mom if they’re implying what it sounds like they are.

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        • Yikes. Well, I hope they are smart and can realize when it’s too much for her. I’m not necessarily against adding a bunch of upgrades if she can safely do them, but if they’re clearly ending up being too stressful mentally, obviously that can lead to them not being performed safely, so I hope they’re keeping that in mind.

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    • The Games are still labeled “2020” for branding purposes only. The same IOC that decided to keep the “Tokyo 2020” moniker is the same IOC that first suggested that eligibility for the 2020 Games be expanded due to the contest taking place in 2021. The FIG is merely taking the IOC’s advice.

      Frankly, I find all the hand wringing over “unfairness to veterans who will face more competition” to be melodramatic. No one is entitled to those “at large” Oly team spots. Those spots are earned, and if that means there’s more competition for those spots, then so be it. These same 05’ babies that would have been “pacing” for 2021 worlds can now add another goal in mind, if they so choose.

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  3. I agree with you about the 2021 gymnasts, especially the part about pacing. Going back to your hypothetical about Simone in 2013, her coach would probably have taken a realistic look at the situation and paced her appropriately, even if that meant forgoing London and continuing on course to Rio. But Katelyn Ohashi, for example, has been very outspoken about the insane pressure she was put under as is; if she’d suddenly become eligible for London, I think there’s a not-insignificant chance that Valeri would have tried to push her through regardless of what she could realistically handle. I do know that the latter type of coaches are increasingly being pushed out, with the former type coming in in their place, but it’s still a work in progress.

    In the US, I’m honestly not sure it’s going to matter anyway, because the US senior depth is so insane, a 2005-born gymnast who’s having to rush to get up to Olympic shape is going to have an uphill battle against more seasoned gymnasts who were always paced for 2020. But in other countries with less depth, especially if they have some 2005-born stars, there’s likely to be some real pressure to get those gymnasts in Olympic contention, and this list is likely to include countries that lag behind the US in terms of recognizing that there’s such a thing as too much training/pressure on an athlete.

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    • The US top 3 or 4 2005 “jr” even though not a standout from the “sr” are nevertheless very competitive and getting practically the same AA score and even beat some of the sr sometimes. So they are definitely going to now feel the pressure to up the game. If anything, they are actually in a great position because now they have one more additional big competition they can try for.

      But that pacing schedule is definitely now very messed up.

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    • Yeah, Katelyn would’ve been in an incredibly dangerous situation, I think. But I definitely agree that Simone would’ve been paced correctly unless Aimee realized Simone was ready and Simone wasn’t having issues handling the pressure. There are some kids who can absolutely handle it, and Simone may have been one of them, so I’m fine with this being looked at on a case-by-case basis, but there are just too many coaches out there to push for something like this despite their specific athlete’s ability to handle it.

      And yeah, I feel like everyone is prematurely calling Konnor an Olympian and I’m like, she has a great beam and a good DTY, but her bars and floor are both 13s at best internationally, which won’t be competitive against seniors. Same with Skye…they’re both good but neither has shown yet that they’d have an advantage over most of the current top seniors. And I’m worried for both of them if they try to push upgrades super fast, especially since they’re not training right now. They’re going to be at a disadvantage in many ways going into 2021, both in their physical preparation and having almost zero high-level experience under their belts. I personally don’t see it happening at all for them.

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  4. This whole pandemic happened because Aliya needed more time to get in shape — the virus itself is just a detail.

    Urazova gets more time for upgrades and Listunova comes along. Go Russia! Finish your 2012 job!

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  5. I have a feeling that unless one of the 2005s significantly outperform others in the top 5 AA or is #1 on any particular event, that Tom would lean towards the experienced athlete.

    Example if at OT we ended up with something like this:
    Simone 60 | Suni 58 | Leanne 57.4 | Riley 57.3 | Konnor 57.1 | Grace 57

    I bet Tom would not give Konnor the spot, he’d give it to Grace. At the end of the day none of the 2005s are #1 on any event, so they’d have to rely on AA. Tom has already said only the top 2 are guaranteed team spots based on AA. Things could change, but that seems unlikely unless people retire or downgrade.

    Tom has shown he doesn’t have to justify his reasoning (example in worlds making MyKayla the alternate despite her outscoring Grace at selection camp). Ultimately, a close #3-#5 AA where one didn’t get picked is less of an outrage than a 2005 getting a spot, regardless of IOC or FIGs regulations.

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    • Yeah, I don’t think the 2005s have shown that they’re solidly in the mix yet, and junior scores tend to be a little more heightened than the scores they’d receive for the same routines as seniors anyway. They still have a lot to prove and I don’t understand why either is being looked at as a lock, especially when they’re both so untested. It’d be cool to see one of them really crush it and finish top 2 or something, but they’re a long way from that happening and I just don’t see it right now, especially when they seem to have been grooming certain athletes (like Grace and Suni) for these spots over the past few years.

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      • I’m praying to God that the coaches for Konnor, Skye, and the other gymnasts turning senior this year will pace them appropriately for Copenhagen and basically ignore Tokyo. They’re not likely to make it anyway without serious upgrades, which absolutely should not be rushed especially since none of them expected to be gearing up for an Olympics until the ’24 season as it is. I adore Konnor, but she’s not Olympics-ready yet – none of the juniors are because none of them expected to have to be!

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  6. If the FIG had decided not to allow 2005-born athletes to be eligible for the Olympics, that would have probably been a relief for the older athletes, and I don’t think it would have caused any disappointment for the 2005-borns, because they wouldn’t have expected to be age-eligible anyway. As is, older athletes are probably disappointed to learn they will have more competition for Olympic spots, and I don’t think younger athletes are necessarily going to be happy because it would be kind of stressful to realize that now you’re age-eligible for an Olympics in a year that you didn’t know would be happening! Overall, I think it would be better for almost everyone if the FIG had said 2005-born gymnasts couldn’t be eligible for the upcoming Olympics.

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  7. Presumably though, this would not in any way stop USAG putting in their own caveat that they weren’t going to select any of the 2005 athletes. Wouldn’t it be fascinating if Tom took on all the complaints about ‘unfairness’ as it impacts the US specifically and prevented the 2005-borns trying for the Olympic team? In a weird way I could see this happening.

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  8. I completely disagree with the FIG allowing 2005 kids. I think this is yet another ridiculous, delusional attempt to, ideally, make things ‘more competitive’, and to ‘benefit nations w less depth…blah blah blah…’. We’ve got the 2 per country rule, ‘teams’ down to freaking 4 ppl, and now we make the pool even deeper. Genius…

    I just feel like these idealistic rules continue to fail to consider the amount of years, blood, sweat and tears these athletes put into reaching a level of being remotely competitive on the intl stage. Someone who hung on to finally make their dream happen, and now has to hang on another year, now has to add the hurdles of extra depth.

    No one is going to drastically shake the team podium because of 2005 kids. This isn’t some ADDITIONAL 2021 Olympics; it’s the RESCHEDULE of the 1 planned (and w the same code) for 2020, where 2005 kids were never in the plans.

    AND they’re still having a 2021 Worlds, which all of those 2005 kids were alrdy focused on!

    Last, the potential for coaches to screw their 2005 kids up trying to make 2020/21 olympic fetch happen is just icing on the cake.

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  9. The only country that really benefits from this is Russia, since Listunova’s floor is already competitive at the senior level and she adds to their total on any event she goes on. As long as V Rod doesn’t break anyone and the gymnasts remain uninjured, it doesn’t even matter much who they pick for the fourth spot assuming Melnikova, Urazova and Listunova all make it.

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  10. Could Yu Linmin tecnically still challenge for the qualification through vault because she has already has two wins with one qualifier still to go or would she lose the tiebreaker anyway?

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  11. Pingback: The FIG Answers Our 2021 Questions – SportUpdates

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