More Thoughts on the Olympic Team Format Change

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By Anna Rose Johnson

In May, the FIG announced that they will reduce the Olympic team size from five to four members (with the chance of the certain countries gaining additional specialists). This change will take place starting with the 2020 Olympic Games. I decided to gather insight and opinions from around the world, and I’m pleased to present these fascinating quotes on the rule change from gymnasts and journalists. Back in May we also heard from Larisa Iordache, Carly Patterson and Julie Crocket on their feelings towards the change.

Tracie Ang/MAL (senior gymnast): “I would say that not all great gymnasts could show their potential as the new rules need only four members in a team. This would be the disadvantage for the members who have great potential but will be left out [of] the team.”

Jake Dalton/USA (Olympic gymnast): “I think anytime you take a spot away from country for the Olympic Games it hurts not only the sport but it takes away opportunities for these athletes who work their entire lives to make the Olympic Team. Especially for gymnastics where we want to grow our sport and increase the amount of people who enjoy the sport, it is hard to do that when you take away spots. I don’t know the details behind the possible individual spots yet but I do think that is a good idea. I just think taking a spot away from the team is sad. I remember when they went from six to five spots and it definitely sits in your mind that your chance of making an Olympic team just got smaller.”

Jaylene Gilstrap/USA (junior gymnast): “The Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It is every gymnast’s dream to someday compete for the USA in the Olympics. So, the decision to reduce the number of gymnasts from five athletes to four athletes gives one less gymnast the ability to follow their dream. I’m hoping they reconsider their decision to make the cut.”

Taylor Graham/USA (junior gymnast): “I feel like it’s not a good idea to move the Olympic team down to four people instead of five. My thoughts are: having five people per team is a good steady amount  because if you have five people and one team member gets injured you still have four more; if you have four team members and one gets injured you only have three left that are able to compete. Having five people also gives more gymnasts a chance to meet their goals and make their dream come true.  Many people want to make it to the Olympics and it’s always been a small amount and now it’s even smaller.”

Elizabeth Grimsley/USA (journalist): “The Olympics are the biggest event for sports included in the games, meaning it hosts the best of the best on the planet. This change strays from that thinking. It will potentially keep some of the best from the Games to allow gymnasts from smaller gymnastics nations an opportunity to compete. If you’re the best, you should get the opportunity to prove it no matter what country you represent. The ideal format would allow for bigger teams AND more individuals, but with only a certain number allotted from the IOC, this isn’t possible. However, sacrificing a medal contender for second-tier elite isn’t the answer and has a chance of alienating those four-year fans that only tune in to see exciting gymnastics and not Yurchenko fulls from gymnasts they’ve never heard of.”

Farah Mahmoud/QAT (senior gymnast): “In my [opinion, to] reduce the team from five to four plus two additional specialists does not guarantee that additional countries will be included in the Olympic Games but it gives to the developing countries a chance to participate with team, because actually it is difficult to have full team in gymnastics. In addition, it opens the opportunity for the specialist to have a chance to participate [in] the Olympics, because it is not normal that a World Champion [on] any apparatus cannot participate [in] the Olympic Games since he cannot be qualifying [for the] team or all-around. In addition, the new system has additional opportunity for specialists and all-around gymnasts to qualify to the Olympics through the World Challenge Cups and Continental Championships, which gives us more chance to qualify. Moreover, these events of the World and Continental competitions will be important by including those events in the Olympic Qualification process, which give us more chance to participate in it.”

Lauren Maxwell/USA (junior gymnast): “At first I thought it was absurd for the team to drop to four but once I learned we could bring two additional specialists and bring a total of six girls I understood the FIG’s decision a little better. The USA is very deep with talent so a lot of other countries have no chance at all with competing for team. It is a world sport that a lot of people love to watch in the Olympics so I can now see both sides of this debate. For the girls who still have the dreams of going to the Olympics I think they will still go for it. And for the girls who might be amazing on only three events this gives them a better opportunity I think.”

Maggie Nichols/USA (senior gymnast): “I think that it is very disappointing because there are so many amazing gymnasts who deserve an opportunity to pursue their goals and dreams. USA has so many amazing girls and [we] want to show the world how strong we really are.”

Kristen Ras/USA (journalist): “I think the decision to reduce the team created an added pressure for national programs and elite gymnasts. It also undoes much of the spirit and teamwork that gymnastics celebrates, which ultimately is not keeping with the Olympic spirit. But I do think the qualification procedures are a great step in ensuring the Olympics has better diversity and representation, so I believe that is very encouraging.”

Kelly Simm/GBR (senior gymnast): “I think it’s such a shame to reduce the number of team members to four. Gymnastics is such a difficult sport and gymnasts train so hard and for so long to get to this level and to have their opportunity narrowed even further is so unfair. I think this could potentially discourage younger gymnasts to take part as it might make them feel like it’s even harder to make a team.”

Bridget Sloan/USA (Olympic gymnast): “I didn’t see this coming at all. When I read about it, I thought ‘Why? It already is such a small team, how could it possibly be done with one less gymnast?’ You work so hard for this one chance. And now some probably don’t even think it is possible to pursue this dream. For those that would qualify for the additional specialist spots, I think it will be hard to prepare for the Olympics and then sit in the stands and watch your teammates and best friends competing on the podium, knowing that you could be helping them in the team competition.”

Giulia Steingruber/SUI (Olympic gymnast): “I think that the new teams-of-four rule is considered diversely in each country. For instance, it’s not that bad for Switzerland because we have very few female gymnasts and it will therefore be easier and better to form a team. However, it will be even more difficult for the United States in view of their large pool of female gymnasts.”

Many thanks to everyone for sharing their interesting thoughts!

3 Comments

  1. Daniel says:

    I think the comments of Farah Mahmoud and Steingruber are very telling. The “ridiculousness” of this change largely depends on where you were born.

  2. Julie says:

    It bothers me that US gymnasts don’t even take the time to understand the change but just spout off what other people are saying. They keep saying less girls will get to go to the Olympics from the US but in reality, more will go! And I truly don’t think girls will lose out on their dream because their dream is the Olympics, not the team final at the Olympics.

  3. AP says:

    It’s going to be very interesting to see how the new setup unfolds during the next quadrennium. In particular, I’ll be curious to see how the gymnasts that compete in the World Cups in 2020 to try and qualify for an individual berth are chosen. Will the team coordinators be able to choose who they send to these competitions? For example, will the U.S. get to choose which gymnasts they send to these competitions, effectively saying “We want you to qualify to the Olympics, but not as a member of the four-member team?”

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