Last night myself, like a lot of the American population, was fixed on the television as the USA Women’s Gymnastics team completed their qualifying round for the Olympics. As a team, they cruised easily into a first place seeding for the team finals and maintained their status as Gold Medal favorites. The night ended with heartbreak, however, for one of the girls on our ‘Fab Five’ team and it was a sediment that seems to be echoing throughout the nation and in the Gymnastics sporting world. What happened? Jordyn Weiber, the 2011 World Champion in the All-Around competition, will not get to compete in the Olympic All-Around because of a rule that only allows 2 competitors from each nation to advance. (This rule is in effect for both the individual all-around finals as well as the individual apparatus finals.) Jordyn posted the 4th best overall score in the qualifying round when it was all said and done, and yet is being denied a chance to compete in the finals because she happens to be part of a team that boasts 3 top athletes. In all, 4 of the top 25 qualifiers were prevented from advancing into the finals based on this rule (Jordyn Weiber, USA, 4th, Anastasia Grishina, RUS, 12th, Jennifer Pinches, GBR, 21st and Yao Jinnan, CHN, 22nd). In their place we will instead see the 26th, 27th and 28th best qualifiers receive a chance to compete in the All-Around competition.
The biggest argument against this set-up is the competition. The Olympics is the premier competition, the best of the best, and yet this rule prevents that from happening. A similar thing happens in swimming in that only 2 swimmers per country per event can qualify for the Olympic Games, but once you get to the games, you will never see a swimmer with the 4th fastest qualifying time be held out of the next stage of competition. I understand the basic notion that if you aren’t in the top 2 on your own team, you probably cannot compete with the other bests in the world, but that is a flawed thought in the situation of an extremely strong team. The Olympics award medals for the top 3 placers, Gold, Silver and Bronze, but we prevent any nation from having a chance at sweeping the medal stand while keeping a potential medalist from even being part of the competition, solely based on their nationality?
In the very popular Olympic sport of track and field, for the most part, 3 competitors per event qualify for the Olympic games and witnessing a medal sweep of an event by one county is a magical moment. I do not think upping the number to 3 this is the perfect answer either though. If you set a hard qualifying number of 3 entries per nation, eventually there will be a case where the 4 of the top athletes are all from the same country. The United States nearly witnessed this in the shot put this year when there were 3 veteran, former World Champions, as well as a young guy who was the reigning Indoor World Champion. In the end, one of them wasn’t where he needed to be to compete with the others and 3 qualifiers was the right number, but all four of these men looked like they had the potential to earn Olympic Medals.
In the end the Olympic committees need to find a way to allow the best competitors to compete. Restrictions based on nationality (or age for that matter) should not be a factor, not in the qualifying for the games themselves and especially not within the games. For nearly every athlete, in every sport in the world, the Olympics are the biggest deal, as they only occur once every 4 years, and simply qualifying for the games is a dream come true. Not allowing some of these athletes (much less the defending World Champion) to compete for a medal in their event, despite the fact that they qualified both for the games and for the for the medal round is beyond unacceptable. The competition for the best all-around gymnast should include all of the best all-around gymnasts just as the race to determine the fastest man in the world should include all of the fastest men in the world. We aren’t going to tell Usain Bolt he cannot run in the 100 finals if he qualifies in 4th, just because countrymen Asafa Powell and Johan Blake qualified ahead of him, why would we do the same thing here? This rule needs changed…