By Gina Pongetti Angeletti, MPT, MA, CSCS-ART,Cert. 

The Road to Tokyo has been equally long and hard to understand for anyone trying to determine just who is going to make the men’s and women’s teams in the U.S. and how they’re going to be selected. 

The four-person team has been subject to many complaints, speculation and buzz, and subsequently, will return to a five-person team for the Paris 2024 Games. With just four events for the women, it’s difficult to choose athletes who balance each other. For men’s gymnastics, six events presents an even harder mountain to climb. 

In 2019, Inside Gymnastics explained the daunting feat of mastering the qualification rules, which left some people with answers and other’s heads spinning even more. So, here we sit in Fort Worth, with just over six weeks to go, and the RSVP list is filling up quickly.

So, how are the athletes getting to the Games? First, let’s break it down per country, and then take a closer look at Team USA.

The Numbers

  • There are 98 total spots for the Tokyo Olympics.
  • 12 total teams, or countries, have qualified as a country, made up of four athletes each. 
  • Opportunities for medals are for both MAG and WAG: 
    • Team: One each = two 
    • All-Around: Two each with the two-per-country max rule of representation = four
    • Individual Event: Six events for men, four events for women; maxed at two-per-country on each event yet again = 20 
    • The total, then, if you literally dominate the Olympics as a country, is 26.

The men’s teams that have already qualified as a country are: Brazil, Chinese Taipei, Germany, Great Britain, Ukraine, Switzerland, South Korea, Spain, the United States, China, Russia and Japan. For the women, the  United States, Russia, China, France, Canada, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Spain and Japan will be in Tokyo.

Qualifications for event finals take place during prelims, together with the already-decided nominative spot athletes determined by ranking  during the World Cup Series. 

Nominative spots are available (meaning for the name-sake person and not to be transferred within the country should the athlete pull out of the meet or get injured, for example). This was created to give event specialists a chance to medal at the Olympics, without having to worry and wish to be chosen as a part of the four-person team. 

Each country that has a team that qualified can have up to two of these nominative spots (for a total of six athletes from that country). The process for this was complicated – with a tallying of points from the World Cup Series from 2018-2019, and their top three finishes (as long as they were in the top 12 total at the competition). 

If the athlete decides not to accept their spot, or withdraw, the next in rank order from the World Cup Points total would be in line. The Doha World Cup, which takes place quite literally the same weekend as our U.S. Olympic Trials, is the final event. 

For many of the teams, the choice of who was on the 2018 Worlds Team was a tough one. Athletes part of a qualifying top 12 team were ineligible to earn both the nominative individual apparatus spot or the All-Around non-nominative spot (country-owned, not individual). This is precisely why Jade Carey, for example, was not on the 2018 World team for the United States. Carey, instead, chose to leave open her individual eligibility (which she later mathematically clinched for floor exercise). 

For the individual All-Around competitors, the 2019 World Championship was a deciding point. Gymnasts from countries who did not qualify a full team had the opportunity to earn a individual All-Around spot based on their performance in Prelims. After removing the gymnasts from qualified teams, the remaining top 20 in the final rankings earned a berth to Tokyo. 

In addition, three countries could also earn an additional spot through sending athletes to the All-Around World Cup Series. (The catch is that the athletes sent could not be any of the competitors from the 2019 World Championships.) At the conclusion of the World Cup Series, the top three countries would earn a spot. (This spot is for the country, not the individual.)

Individual event spots are also available if the athlete medaled at 2019 Worlds, and was from a non-team qualified country. The extra spots from the individual event medals (removing those from countries that qualified already as a team) will be passed over, increasing the list for the All-Around.

Finally of note, the official document for the Tokyo Olympic Games called the Qualification System Principles, states that all qualification events must be performed by June 29, 2021 and that the final entry deadline, by name from the National Governing Bodies (NGB) to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) must be submitted by July 5, 2021. 

TEAM USA

The United States, specifically, has their own rules for choosing their teams, as outlined by the Athlete Selection Procedures document.  

For the women, qualification to Olympic Trials concludes this week in Fort Worth. Though, as outlined in rules, the door is left wide open for the selection committee to decide which athletes will advance to Trials. The top eight women in the combined All-Around from two days at Championships qualify automatically. Then, after that, there is a rule that essentially says that everyone else is fair game (competitors from 2021 championships OR petitioned athletes). 

The United States Women’s Selection Committee has to present the team by Monday, June 28, the day following the completion of the second day of competition at Olympic Trials in St. Louis, MO. 

The men have more defined rules. Their process formerly gave the opportunity to the most consistent athlete over four nights of competition: Days one and two at Championships, and days one and two at Olympic Trials. The two top athletes were previously automatically selected–no matter how amazing they competed, or how lucky they may have been, or even how slim the field may be. Because the Pan American Championships is happening at the same time as our U.S. Championships (the U.S. men have earned an additional +1 individual spot to the Games as a result of Paul Juda’s All-Around Silver Medal), the Men’s Selection Committee amended their rules.

Now, the athlete that places first after the two days of Olympic Trials is automatically selected. The second place athlete also qualifies, pending they place top three on at least three of the six individual events. They still may be selected to the team, but not automatically if they do not fulfill these individual event requirements. 

The committee also leaves themselves room in actually naming the full four-person team. They have, as previously stated, until July 5  to decide on the actual athletes, pending shifting from within the “pool” of selected and replacement (alternate) athletes, at least one and up to five, who technically can be moved around like chess pieces between June 27 and July 5 to make the four-man team. We will know who these athletes are within 24 hours of the conclusion of the second night of the men’s Olympic Trials, or by Sunday evening in St. Louis. 

No matter what the outcome, the athletes who made it this far, through pandemic shutdowns, flipping in masks, the scrutiny of even holding the Olympic Games, COVID testing beyond levels and more…congratulations. Getting there should literally receive a separate medal. 

For more information on the process, see our past articles. 

https://www.insidegymnastics.com/news-features/halfway-to-tokyo-breaking-down-the-42-format/

https://www.insidegymnastics.com/2019-world-championships/2019-world-championships-news-features/a-numbers-game-gymnastics-olympic-qualification-made-simple-ish/

Photos by Ricardo Bufolin and Grace Chiu for Inside Gymnastics

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