At writing, as we begin this Olympic year, we are just over a week from the start of the international season, with the first of the World Cup events to take place in Melbourne Australia from the 20th to the 23rd of February.
Great Britain has by virtue of their results from the 2018 and 2019 World Championships qualified full team of four gymnasts to compete at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
There is option still to qualify a maximum of two additional gymnasts who would represent Great Britain separately from the team as individuals. This new convoluted process will reportedly only be relevant for this coming Olympic Games, lasting one cycle only, as for Paris 2024, teams will go back to five gymnasts total, and there will be no specialists. An indication of how successful and popular a concept it has been.
So, in order to try and encourage everyone not to repeatedly hit their heads against keyboards, or throw phones across the room, I will endeavour to keep it as brief as possible, factual, and relevant to potential for qualifying British Gymnasts only.
There are three routes available in order to qualify specialist spots:
1.Apparatus World Cup Series
Claudia Fragapane, Ondine Achampong
These are the Individual Apparatus World Cup events starting in November 2018, and concluding in March 2020. Points are awarded to gymnasts depending on their ranking at the events, and only the overall winner of each apparatus when the series in concluded will be awarded an Olympic spot. Only the top three results of each gymnast count toward their points total, so a gymnast can attend just three World Apparatus Cups, and take the points from each, or attend more, and take their three highest scoring results for their total. Points are allocated as follows:
This spot is for the gymnast only rather that the country they compete for, another gymnast cannot be selected in her place.
Gymnasts who were members of a World Championship team in either 2018 or 2019 that qualified their team to the Tokyo Games are not eligible, So American, Russian, and Chinese gymnasts from the 2018 Championship teams, and from 2019 teams, French, British, Dutch, Canadian, Italian, Japanese, German, Belgian, and Spanish gymnasts.
With only three events remaining, it will be very difficult, but difficult isn’t impossible. Beam and floor are where GB will be looking for the most points here, and as things stand, technically it is doable. Nominations for the first two events in Melbourne and Baku are out, and should all go well, we will likely see the same two gymnasts nominated for the final event in Doha.
Bristol Hawks Claudia Fragapane will look to recapture her pre injury floor form, she already has 20 points from the one event she has contested, the Stuttgart Apparatus World Cup in October, but will need to be at her very best to beat the USA’s Jade Carey who currently sit in first place with 76 points, and only needs one more win for a perfect 90. Jade is also set to win her Olympic spot though vault where she also leads the standings, leaving the floor spot open, there is also of course a possibility that Jade will decline the spot completely should she win it, in favour of attempting to make the USA team of four instead. Claudia is looking stronger and stronger in training, and is of course a European and World medalist on this event. A huge challenge yes, but not beyond her capabilities should she be able to return to peak form.
New senior Ondine Achampong will look to impress on beam, she is a clean, elegant, stylish and most importantly consistent gymnast on this piece. Ondine is also the 2019 European Youth Olympic Festival beam champion. Beam is as ever open to those that can hit, and the leading scores so far are within her reach, so everything to play for as she makes her senior international debut.
20th – 23rd February Melbourne Australia
12th – 15th March Baku Azerbajan
18th – 21st March Doha Qatar
2. World All Around Cups
The World AA cups are again a points ranking system, but this time with the country rather than the individual earning an Olympic berth. Gymnasts are eligible here, regardless as to whether they competed at the World Championships. Should Great Britain’s gymnasts manage to collectively accumulate enough points to place in the top three nations one all four World Cups have been contested, a place is secured this way.
Each eligible country (lets not go too far into this to add to confusion, GB are eligible due to their World Championship finishing position) may send one gymnast only, apart from to their own World Cup event, where they may send two.
All four gymnasts selected to represent GB have been announced by the FIG.
7th March: Milwaukee, American Cup: Jennifer Gadirova – Aylesbury
Still just fifteen, new senior Jennifer Gadirova has replaced the originally nominated Amelie Morgan who is recovering from a wrist injury. Jennifer continues her impressive trajectory from 2019 where she took silver on vault at the junior world championships, then gold on vault, and silver on floor at Elite Massillia.
Clean, dynamic, and expressive, Jennifer has shown some very big skills in training so far this year, including one of the strongest full in dismounts from beam I have ever seen, and an Amanar vault. We are very early in the season, but over the next few months, should she be able to introduce all of her skills to competition whilst maintaining her impressive execution and consistency, she may well find herself one of team GB’s youngest members in Tokyo.
21st – 22nd March: Stuttgart, Germany: Kelly Simm – Dynamo
2018 British AA Champion Kelly was injured at the 2019 British, where she fractured her foot on beam, still managing to finish 2nd AA. She has since been working hard to return to her best for the Olympic year. In September she marked her return to competition, when she finished top AA at the British Team Championships. It has been interesting to watch Kelly progress as a senior elite international over the last few years, she had produced hugely difficult work, including being the first and so far only British gymnast to compete a full in beam dismount, as well as using a standing full on beam, whip immediate full in on floor, and her own original bar skill, the Inbar Stalder to piked Tkatchev. Execution was where Kelly had been previously hit harder by the judges, then a long period out with injury saw her return in 2018 with a slightly lower level of difficulty, and hugely improved execution which she’d clearly worked incredibly hard on.
2020 is where the two come together, the huge difficulty is set to return, while she maintains her improved execution. She’s looking very strong indeed.
28th March: Birmingham: Alice Kinsella – Park Wrekin, Ellie Downie – Notts
For the home World Cup, Alice Kinsella reigning Commonwealth and European beam champion will hope to continue her increasing consistency paired with the clean and difficult work cleverly selected to suit her as an individual gymnast, which saw her finish 12th AA at the 2019 World Championships. We haven’t yet seen much of Alice in training so far this year, so I very much look forward to seeing what she is hoping to bring to competition, to stake her claim for an Olympic spot.
Ellie Downie is now a world team and individual medalist, a European Champion, and multiple medalist. She is currently the strongest AA gymnast in Great Britain, and has very realistic chances of medalling in Tokyo should all go well. We have seen training footage of Ellie working the Biles vault, adding another half twist to the Cheng she successfully competed to take bronze at the 2019 World Championships, whether this vault becomes competitive for her over time we shall see. What I do think, and hope we will see is Ellie use the Cheng for her AA vault, as opposed to the double twisting Yurchenko she has previously used, thus giving her a hugely valuable boost of 0.6 in start value to her AA total.
4th – 5th April Tokyo: Lucy Stanhope – Liverpool
Liverpool’s Lucy Stanhope continues her return to senior international competition from a long period out with injury. She has a really strong double twisting Yurchenko, a Pak-Maloney-Bhardwaj on bars, showed some big upgrades on floor at the end of 2019 with a double double, and a one and a half through to triple twist, then on beam she is as far as I’m aware the only gymnast to be competing a full twisting flick into immediate layout.
Some big difficulty, and usually a very clean gymnast, so if she is able to consolidate all of her upgrades she can score very well.
3. Continental Championships
The third option available to qualify an individual gymnast is through Continental Championships. The European Championships will be held in Paris from the 30th of April, to the 3rd of May.
The criteria here is again very specific.
The top two gymnasts from the AA will earn Olympic berths, this would be a berth for the country as opposed to the individual.
Europeans alternate each year in terms of structure, with 2020 being a team and apparatus final event, so no AA final. Therefore the AA totals from qualifications will be used to ascertain the allocation of Olympic berths.
All gymnasts may take part, but only those who did not compete as part of a team that have already secured qualification through the qualifying World Championships, will be eligible to earn their country an individual Olympic spot here.
With this in mind, British Gymnastics have stated in their European Championship selection policy:
British Gymnastics will be prioritising selection of gymnasts who have the potential of producing high level All-Around scores in qualification, who did not compete at the 2019 World Championships.
This is going to make selection very interesting, not just for GB, but for many teams. There are five to a team for Europeans, and for those targeting individual Olympic spots, the emphasis will be more on the highest AA total for non World team members, and less on team and apparatus final success. For GB, the world team was of course, Becky Downie, Ellie Downie, Alice Kinsella, Georgia-Mae Fenton, and Taeja James. I expect we shall see some of these gymnasts selected, but I believe that we will see the likes of Kelly Simm, Jennifer Gadirova, and Amelie Morgan prioritised.
Overall, this could be a European Championships quite unlike any we have seen before.
So there we have it, what we do know it that GB will certainly send a team of four to Tokyo, what remains to be seen if whether they are joined by up to two individuals.
Good luck ladies.