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.
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.
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.
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