By Anna Rose Johnson

When the FIG opted to change the Olympic qualifying system in 2015, the gymnastics community had dozens of questions: How would this system work? How many athletes would qualify to Tokyo 2020? Why change from 5-member to 4-member teams? How does the World Cup circuit affect the Olympics?

Here, we try to answer these questions as simply as possible.

Feature Photo by Lloyd Smith

Over the years, we’ve seen a multitude of explanations for the complex (and often confusing) Tokyo 2020 artistic gymnastics qualification methods, yet fans are still curious about certain aspects of the system. Here, we hope to clear up some of the confusion with a quick, bulleted guide to the procedures:

Team Qualification at 2018 or 2019 World Championships

  • At the 2018 World Championships in Doha, Qatar, this fall, the top 3 men’s teams and the top 3 women’s teams will automatically qualify full 4-member teams to the 2020 Olympics. This is the first chance for any country earn a berth to Tokyo.
  • At the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, 9 more teams (both men’s and women’s, so 18 total) will qualify to the Olympics, ensuring that there will be 12 total teams competing in Tokyo (combined with the previous 3 teams from Doha) on the men’s and women’s sides. By the end of team competition in Stuttgart, team qualification for Tokyo is finished. All 24 teams, total, will have been awarded berths, and any further qualification attempts will be for individual spots.

Individual Qualification at 2019 World Championships

(For the athlete, not the country.)
  • Also at Stuttgart 2019, the first all-arounders will have the opportunity to qualify to Tokyo. The top 12 men—who have not already qualified to 2020 with their full teams—will receive automatic Olympic berths. The same goes for the top 20 women. Note: These berths are for the individual, not the country, so if Larisa Iordache finishes in the top 20 and earns a spot, it is for Iordache and not Romania.
  • Also at 2019 Worlds, the top 3 eligible gymnasts on each apparatus from apparatus finals, representing countries that failed to qualify full teams, will be awarded berths to the 2020 Olympics (max 3 per country). If less than 3 eligible gymnasts qualify to a given apparatus final, then the leftover spots will be awarded to the next eligible all-around competitors from qualifications. Note: These spots are for the individual, not the country.

Individual Qualification via the Apparatus World Cup Series

(For the athlete, not the country. 1 per country.)
  • The Apparatus World Cup circuit begins in November 2018 and ends in March 2020. This long circuit provides another avenue to qualify to Tokyo. Based on the cumulative results over the course of those World Cups, the four women’s and six men’s winners on each apparatus will qualify to Tokyo 2020—read: if they have not helped already helped their team qualify.
    • For example, let’s say Oksana Chusovitina of Uzbekistan performs well on vault at a minimum of 3 Apparatus World Cups during that time frame and finishes first, overall, on vault after tallying all of the participating gymnasts’ cumulative scores. She will automatically qualify for Tokyo based on those results (if Uzbekistan failed to qualify a full team at Doha or Stuttgart).
    • Another example, let’s also suppose that the United States women qualified a full team at Doha (very likely), and Jade Carey, a fantastic vault/floor specialist, did not compete at 2018 Worlds. She goes onto compete in several meets on the World Cup circuit and finishes first, overall, on floor exercise, earning an individual berth to Tokyo.
    • In a different U.S. example, Morgan Hurd competes at 2018 Worlds, helps qualify the United States as a team, and then finishes first, overall, based off her beam performances at the Apparatus World Cups; she wouldn’t be eligible for the specialist qualification berth.
    • Note: All spots earned at the Apparatus World Cups are for the individual not the country.

Individual Qualification via the All-Around World Cup Series

(For the country, not the athlete. 1 per country.)
  • Continuing the example: If the United States qualifies a full team at 2018 Worlds, they automatically receive a 4-woman team spot for the Olympic. After Doha, Jade Carey qualifies to Tokyo based on her results on the Apparatus World Cup circuit, bringing the U.S.’s total Olympic spots to 5 (1 for Jade Carey herself, and 4 for team members to be determined at Olympic Trials).
    • The U.S. actually has the opportunity to qualify 1 more individual athlete via the 2020 All-Around World Cup competitions. The top 3 countries, overall, at the end of this four-stage circuit will receive 1 extra, non-nominative all-around berth for Tokyo. In this case, the gymnast(s) who secures the extra berth for their country could also have competed at a previous World Championships. For this example, we’ll suppose that gymnasts such as Simone Biles and Morgan Hurd—who will presumably have competed at 2018 and/or 2019 Worlds—represent the U.S. on the All-Around World Cup circuit in March and April 2020. Let’s also suppose that Biles and Hurd perform well enough to qualify a berth to Tokyo. Since these spots are for the country, the U.S. could send Biles to the first World Cup, Hurd to the next, Riley McCusker to the third and Grace McCallum to the fourth. As long as it finishes in the top 3, overall, as a country, it earns a spot. This would bring the U.S. women’s Olympic berths to 6, and the U.S. would not be able to qualify for anymore Olympic berths. Note: All spots earned via the 2020 All-Around World Cup series are for the country not the individual. 

Individual Qualification via the Continental Championships

(For the athlete, not the country–unless the country has already qualified a full team, then it is for the country. 1 per country.)
  • Finally, 2 additional berths (1 per country) can be earned by each continent at the Continental Championships—with the exception of Oceania, which would only receive 1 extra berth. Using another U.S. example, let’s suppose that the U.S. opted not to send any gymnasts to the Apparatus World Cup circuit (so ignore the entire Apparatus World Cup section above), and it decides to send a team to the Continental Championships instead. Then, if 1 of its athletes (who did not participate actively in the qualification of the U.S. team) finishes high enough in the all-around final, it can earn an additional berth for the country (not the individual). In the case of gymnasts representing countries that did not qualify a full team to 2020, the spot would be nominative and available only for that athlete. For example, if Switzerland’s Giulia Steingruber had not yet qualified in any other previous way, she could gain an Olympic berth via a qualified ranking at the 2020 Continental Championships.

In Conclusion (& if You’re Extremely Confused)

  • In summary, it’s possible for a country to earn a total of 6 berths to the Olympics if it qualifies a team. While it’s also technically possible for a country to earn 7—if they qualify 4 individual athletes at 2019 Worlds, 1 athlete via the Apparatus World Cup series, 1 athlete via the All-Around World Cup series, and 1 athlete at the Continental Championships—it’s extremely unlikely, and is not an option for countries that qualify full teams.

U.S. Women Example

  • For one last example, let’s predict (for fun) what the U.S. women’s team might look like:
    • Let’s suppose that Simone Biles, Morgan Hurd, Laurie Hernandez, and Ragan Smith are selected for the 4-member Olympic team at 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials (remember: this team will be all-arounder heavy and/or all 4 gymnasts will be all-arounders). = 4 athletes
    • If Jade Carey (or any other athlete) does not compete at the 2018 World Championships (where the U.S., in this scenario, earned its team berth) but does qualify via the Apparatus World Cup circuit, she would represent the U.S. in the individual slot—and compete on as many apparatus as she chooses in Olympic qualifications. (Yes, even if she qualifies via finishing first on floor exercise at the Apparatus World Cup series, she can compete all-around during Olympic qualifications and qualify to as many or as few finals as she is eligible for.) = 1 athlete
    • Finally, the U.S. earns a non-nominative individual slot through the 2020 All-Around World Cup series. Using the 4 + 2 system, the U.S. women’s gymnasts in Tokyo will be the 4-member team, Carey, and one more athlete whom the U.S. selects at Trials for that individual slot. = 1 athlete
      • OR, in a second scenario (where no one earns a spot via the Apparatus World Cup series), we could see a 4-member team (i.e. Biles, Hurd, Hernandez, Smith) and the 2 additional individuals selected at Trials via additional berths at Continental Championships and 2020 All-Around World Cup series.
      • OR, in a less likely scenario, the U.S. could skip the 2020 All-Around World Cup series and bring a 4-member team in addition to 1 individual athlete who qualified via the Apparatus World Cup circuit and 1 who qualified via Continentals and was selected at Trials.

If you still have questions regarding certain aspects of the qualification procedures, we recommend that you check out the FIG’s official Q&A document regarding 2020. Also, this FIG file contains a “by the numbers” breakdown of the process, especially regarding qualification at various competitions. Be sure to check out the FIG website for any other information.

Tweet us @insidegym with your Olympic qualification questions, and we’ll do our best to answer them!




Anna Rose Johnson writes about women’s artistic and rhythmic gymnastics. She loves Whippets, brownies, and full-twisting double layouts. Her writing portfolio can be viewed at: