It seems a while since we have had any actual gymnastics news to take in, and of course it has been. We had what felt like endless announcements of cancelled events as the COVID-19 virus began its sweep across the world, finally the doors of the gyms were firmly shut, and the gymnasts remain safely at home working on cardio fitness, conditioning, and flexibility while we wait for them to open again.
Yesterday we heard from the FIG, they announced several key decisions regarding Tokyo 2020, and plans for gymnastics in 2021 when they envision international competition resuming once more.
Let’s take a look at the points raised, and the potential ramifications.
The Tokyo Olympics were of course postponed, and are due to be held from July 23rd 2021. Due to be being the salient point, CEO of the Games Toshiro Muto stated on Friday
” I don’t think anyone would be able to say if it is going to be possible to get it under control by next July or not…. We are certainly not in a position to give you an answer”
Wise, the only thing we can be absolutely sure of at this time, is that we cannot know exactly when anything in the world of sport, in the world as a whole will return to anything like normal. Uncertainty rules, it won’t be forever, but for now promises are futile.
We can only hope that by summer next year, we are eagerly awaiting the team announcement, and looking forward to the biggest sporting show on earth, what a celebration it will be.
Qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
Firstly, those that are qualified retain their qualification, both teams and individuals. For team GB, we have of course qualified a team of four through performance at the 2019 World Championships, there remain a maximum of two qualification spots up for grabs.
If you are unfamiliar with the individual qualification process, please see my post here:
The Continental Championship route will be decided next year. The 2021 European Championships are due to be held from the 21st of April in Basel Switzerland. What we don’t know now, is which format will be used. Europeans alternate in format, this year they were due to be team and apparatus finals only, with the two top AA from qualifications (as long as they didn’t compete as part the team that qualified their nation to Tokyo) being awarded an Olympic berth for their country. In 2021, we are due AA and apparatus finals only, but again it would be the top two from qualifiers. We shall see when the time comes whether they change the planned format.
We will also need wait to see whether the juniors are going to be included in next year’s championships, as they have missed this year, and are usually included only every other year, I hope they are offered the opportunity.
The AA World Cup route should be straight forward. Only one of the four AA World Cups was held before the cancellations started. The top three nations at the end of the four event series win an Olympic berth for their country. The American Cup took place on the 7th of March, with Jennifer Gadirova earning 50 points from her 4th place finish, so GB are off to a great start. This placing will stand, the Stuttgart, Birmingham, and Tokyo World Cups are now due to take place in spring of 2021.
Individual Apparatus World Cups are a trickier matter, and the tricky part is Baku. The series was close to completion, with only Doha remaining, when the Baku event was cancelled half way through, after qualification had ended. Eight qualifying events, one gymnast only on each apparatus gets an Olympic berth for themselves, not their country, points total is taken from the three best finishes of the individual competitor. The FIG have announced that they are taking the results from qualification and awarding points accordingly.
Well, they had to do something, but this choice does raise plenty of issues
Firstly, should the event have taken place at all? In my opinion no, and if it hadn’t, it could have been held in Spring 2021 when hopefully competition resumes once more. By the time qualifications began, there were already travel restrictions in place for certain nations as the virus began its creep across the world. This means that some athletes were denied the opportunity to compete at all through no fault of their own as the pandemic spread , so already there was an absence of an even playing field before the event had even began. You then have the issue of qualifications vs finals, and the potential difference in performance level. Competing to qualify for a final can mean playing slightly safe with the aim to finish top eight and secure a place. Some gymnasts push that little bit harder with skills/combinations to boost D score in finals where they won’t in qualification, and of course they would have had no idea that the routine they put out in the first round was the one that would determine their World Cup points. When this determines whether or not your Olympic dream comes true as seems to be the case on WAG floor in particular with Italian gymnasts Vanessa Ferrari, and Lara Mori, a decision such as this decides the fate of a quad’s worth of preparation.
The event was halted as the Azerbaijani government announced after qualifications that all sporting events were to be cancelled, effective immediately, so there was no choice but to send the gymnasts home. Should the whole event be run again? Ideally so, to give a fair chance to everyone who planned to take part. Another option would be to allow the finalists to compete, perhaps at one of the remaining world Cup events next spring.
At the beginning of each fresh Olympic cycle, we have a new code to work with. Skill values change, requirements alter, deudctions are revised. January 2021 was to be no exception, with the introduction of the next cycle of rules which would see us through to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris. The FIG have decided that the 2020 code will remain in place until January 2022 now, meaning that the Tokyo Games will be held under the rules the gymnasts have been preparing for over the last four years. The wisest and most sensible decision in my opinion.
2021 World Championships
As yet, there are no plans to move the planned 2021 World Championships to be held in Copenhagen Denmark from the 18th of October. Of course we do not usually have two world level events such as this in one year, it is a huge ask for gymnasts to be in peak form twice, just three months apart. The Olympics will of course take precedence in preparation, some will choose to go for the possibility of adding a world title to their accolades, some may opt to rest. There will also be the opportunity for those who missed Olympic selection to compete at World level should they choose to vye for a spot.
So this is the big one, and the one that most were waiting for confirmation on. How would the age requirement question be answered? Senior gymnasts have to turn sixteen in the year of competition, so for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, those born in 2004 are the youngest that can be selected to take part. Only the Olympics are not taking place in 2020 any more of course.
On age, the The Olympic committee’s stance is as follows:
So the decision comes down to the IF (International Federation), in gymnastics case, the FIG.
The decision is that those born in 2005 are now eligible for selection, and this comes down to the FIG rules. From their technical regulations:
So the year of competition will now be 2021, those that turn 16 in 2021 are eligible. The FIG won’t break their written ruling, if they were to, they open themselves up legal challenge, their hands are tied.
Will there be repercussions? Of course. Making a four person team is tough enough, even if one or two extra spots are to be won, competition is already fierce. The addition of a new crop of seniors only makes competition potentially fiercer.
For some of the gymnasts there is more time to repair, time to recover from injuries and build up again, for others it’s another year to push a body through that was seemingly peaking perfectly for this summer. For all there is the mental battle that the intensity of Olympic preparation brings, to be prepared for, and fought one more. There are new seniors that likely weren’t looking for Olympic selection this time round, but now have an eye on where another twelve months of preparation could place them.
For the juniors it is a huge change of plans. On the surface when we look at the juniors coming through, you wouldn’t immediately place any on the Olympic team. But why would you, why would any of them be on a trajectory to peak for this summer, when their aim was Junior Europeans at the end of this month, then eight months before they even join the senior ranks, nearly a year and a half till they hope to be selected for their first World level competition, and another whole four years before they hope to be at their peak difficulty wise, for the Olympic Games they were aiming for.
It’s not as simple as just moving things forward a year, a trajectory is carefully planned, carefully marked out with a path envisaged for the years ahead. Were the Gadirova twins to have a later birthday, would we have seen Jennifer with such a high jump in difficulty already this year, and pushing for more by the summer? Likely not, she didn’t need it, and there would have been no need to push for it yet.
So now the decisions will be made, by coaches, for gymnasts that they know best. Is there anyone who is physically and mentally ready to make that huge adjustment, that big twelve month push for a realistic chance? There’s one I think is a possibility, and a couple more that will be interesting to watch, but we shall see.
So there we have it, there is news, there are decisions, there are repercussions.
Most importantly I hope you are all safe, and all staying at home until it is time for our world of gymnastics, and the world as a whole to get going again. The way the gymnastics community has come together online has been beautiful to see. Clubs supporting their gymnasts, gymnasts sharing their home training, fans coming together in a positive way to keep engaged with the sport. Gymnastics is just one huge family, so many of us can’t see our families at the moment, but hold tight, we will 🇬🇧❤️🇬🇧