You might remember the legendary Magnificent Seven from the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Olympic gymnastics team was then reduced to six members in 2000 and five in 2012. Now, it’s being whittled down to four athletes, which was why the Rio team in 2016 featuring Simone Biles and co. dubbed themselves the Final Five. In addition to the four gymnasts who will make up the women’s Olympic gymnastics team in Tokyo — predictably Biles and three others — up to two gymnasts will qualify as individuals, with Jade Carey mathematically secured in one of those spots through the World Cup series. Note: on the men’s side, they’ve only been allotted one additional individual spot, not two.
The big question, though, is why the four-person team? Bruno Grandi, former president of the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG), wanted to, as The Washington Post explained, narrow the competitive gap between nations. That meant countries with less depth of talent could potentially compete with dominating nations like the US and China.
Another reason was that Grandi wanted to put a heavier emphasis on the all-around gymnast (those who excel at all four events in women’s gymnastics) as opposed to “specialists” who were picked for teams in the past because of their specific skillset on one or two events. FIG argued that the extra individual spots awarded to athletes in Tokyo would be a good thing for these specialists — that it would create an opportunity for gymnasts who might not be considered strong at every event from a team capacity to qualify for the Olympics on their own. However, after much pushback about this rule, the team number is returning to five members at the Paris Olympics in 2024.
So, what will this look like in Tokyo? Put simply, there are four gymnasts competing in the team competition, and all four gymnasts, plus the individual gymnasts (or gymnast, in the men’s case), have a shot at making it to the all-around and event finals that are separate from the team competition. However, only two gymnasts from each country can advance into those finals.
Many gymnasts POPSUGAR spoke to over the past year voiced their opposition to the four-person team rule (and, frankly, gymnasts have been against it from the get-go). Morgan Hurd, who will not be going to Tokyo this summer, emphasized just how short of a “lifespan” competitive gymnasts have. There’s only so much time they can spend training on the elite level before they pass their “peak,” and narrowing down the team slots, she said, isn’t logical.
Jordan Chiles, who has an optimal chance at making the team, called it “stressful.” Former elite-turned-UCLA-gymnast Katelyn Ohashi said that, in her opinion, “Four people every four years is such a slim chance.” Carey added to this sentiment by saying she’s a fan of returning to a five-person team at the next Olympics.
Women’s artistic gymnastics judge Cheryl Hamilton noted that it puts more pressure on gymnasts in the team final — there are four gymnasts total, but three are selected for each event and all three scores count (you can’t drop a score like in collegiate gymnastics). “No one can have a mistake because you’re counting every score,” she told POPSUGAR when we spoke in 2019. That’s why it’s important, especially this time around, to select gymnasts for the team who can perform on every event, hence the emphasis on all-arounders.
Emily Chan, another FIG judge, also voiced her relief that the five-person team would be reinstated come Paris 2024. She speculated that perhaps FIG realized “how complicated and messy” the four-slot rule is. Regardless, the men’s and women’s teams, as well as the individual spot(s) for both and up to five team alternates, will be announced at the conclusion of the Olympic Trials (June 24 to June 27). We can’t wait!
To learn more about all the Olympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. The Tokyo Olympics begin July 23 on NBC.
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