Whew boy. Back at it again. Here we go.
The news we had long feared came yesterday when USAG announced the roster for the women’s worlds selection camp, a roster absent Jade Carey. Jade Carey declined her invitation to the selection camp in order to go to Apparatus World Cups instead and attempt to earn herself a named spot at the 2020 Olympics.
“But why?” you ask. SIGH. Because everything is terrible. Duh.
First, let’s discuss the reasons Jade Carey would make the seemingly insane decision not to go to worlds this year when she definitely would have made the team and could have won three medals.
The Olympic qualification rules state that any gymnast who qualifies a team spot to the Olympics cannot then qualify another Olympic spot specifically for themselves through the Apparatus World Cups. The US women are heavily favored to earn team qualification to the Olympics at World Championships this year, so the athletes on this year’s team can’t then go on to Apparatus World Cups to try to earn a named Olympic spot for themselves.
So what if Jade Carey had decided go to worlds this year?
That wouldn’t have prevented her from making the 2020 Olympic team. But, she would have had to be assigned one of the unnamed spots belonging to the US as a country (either a team spot or an individual spot). It wouldn’t be guaranteed.
That’s why I can see the reasoning behind this call for Jade Carey. If she stays healthy, goes to at least three Apparatus World Cups, and performs successfully in all of them, she really should get a spot at the Olympics. That would be a guaranteed spot for her, one that isn’t subject to the whims of a selection committee or Steve Penny-style backroom dealings like the other Olympic spots would be, one that no one can take away from her. Jade Carey would be going to the Olympics, and she would know that by April 2020 and could sip cocktails on the terrace while everyone else is stressing about Trials. You can see the appeal.
(And I think some other elites might be looking at this and saying, “Hey, that does sound nice…”)
But I don’t see the appeal for the US women’s team leadership.
That’s why the program needed to put its foot down and say, “We’re not sending anyone to the Apparatus World Cups.” Because this is super stupid strategically for the US women as a program.
After qualifying a team to the Olympics, the US has the opportunity to gain 2 extra individual Olympic spots, and has three methods to choose from in gaining those spots: Apparatus World Cups, All-Around World Cups, and Continental Championships.
Of the three, the Apparatus World Cups that Jade Carey is planning to pursue are the riskiest for the US women’s team because the spots go to the athlete rather than the country. If Jade Carey earns an Olympic spot through the Apparatus World Cups, but then gets injured in 2020 and can’t go to the Olympics, her spot reverts to the next person in the Apparatus World Cup rankings, who won’t be an American. The US would lose one of its 6 Olympic spots and be down to just 5.
That’s the most significant reason that the US shouldn’t really want anyone gaining a named spot at the Apparatus World Cups. The spot doesn’t belong to USAG, and an injured athlete couldn’t be replaced with an American reserve.
Even if there isn’t an injury, the US would be locked into sending Carey regardless of how the national team looks in 2020. What if a new senior comes along in 2020 who’s even better on vault and floor? You have to send Carey anyway, and there’s no point in using the other non-team individual spot for another vault/floor worker because you already have those events covered. Any other VT/FX specialists that might come along are SOL.
I also foresee inevitable problems with the fact that—when it comes down to it—the US basically just selected Jade Carey for the 2020 Olympic team, and did so without any kind of official trials process or selection procedure being followed. They just said, “You’re the one who gets to go guarantee yourself an Olympic spot.”
What if Gabby Perea comes back healthy in 2019 and is amazing on only bars and wants to try to get an Olympic spot just for bars through the Apparatus World Cups? Tom Forster has already said they won’t allow two people to try to earn spots through apparatuses (understandably because of the injury worries noted above), so how do you explain to Gabby Perea that she doesn’t get to do that because you already picked Jade Carey for the Olympics without any kind of procedure? That Perea has to try to get her spot the normal way at Trials but Carey doesn’t have to? This seems like a giant bramble of unfairness claims waiting to happen.
Concerns like these are why it seemed obvious to us observers that the US women should try to qualify their two extra Olympic spots through the other two methods—All-Around World Cups and Continental Championships—and not bother with the Apparatus World Cups. Spots earned by those other two methods would be unnamed, which means the US could have earned its six Olympic spots—four team athletes, two individual athletes, all unnamed—and could have selected anyone for any of those six spots, including Jade Carey, including all the members of the 2018 Worlds team.
Tangent: I should note that this strategy I’m proposing is specific to the US women, and I wouldn’t really advocate it for anyone else. The US women are in a unique position of dominance and would be all-but-guaranteed to earn one of three spots from the AA World Cups and one of two spots from Continental Championships. Other programs, including the US men, are not in the same position of dominance to assume those limited spots as given and will need to pursue multiple routes in order to cover their bases, including the Apparatus World Cups.
So why on earth wouldn’t the US women have just gone with the much simpler and better strategy of qualifying extra spots through the AA World Cups and Continental Championships, rather than bothering with the Apparatus World Cups at all?
That’s an excellent question, Gladys. I don’t really know the answer to that.
A complicating factor here is the unconfirmed scuttlebutt that the FIG has communicated to nations that they cannot prevent an athlete from trying to qualify through the Apparatus World Cups if she or he wants to do so.
Which….psssssssh. That is such meaningless FIG garbage. Of course they can prevent athletes from going to competitions. Gymnasts can’t just show up to World Cup events on their own. USAG, as the federation, has to enter them in the competition, and World Cup events are not mandatory. USAG could just…decide not to enter anyone in those meets. What could the FIG even do about that? Plenty of countries don’t enter anyone in World Cup competitions.
USAG absolutely could have defined the Olympic qualification strategy that worked best for the US as a program, and by agreeing to send Jade Carey to Apparatus World Cups, it’s choosing not to do that.
Are we surprised? No.
And that brings me to another point. While you can totally see why this strategy is extremely appealing to Jade Carey, it’s not without its risks for her as well. The biggest risk is that she has to depend on USAG, an organization in the grips of turmoil that is known for its comical lack of competence and organizational abilities even at the best of times, to actually send her to the events she needs to compete in.
I’m honestly concerned that USAG will say, “Hey, Jade, the FIG told us we can’t officially prevent you from going to the Apparatus World Cups to try to get an Olympic spot, so go ahead,” but then won’t actually have its act together to enter her or send her to those specific Apparatus World Cup events. That would be the cruelest possible thing to do to her, but it’s also USAG, so I’m definitely not ruling it out as a possibility.
I mean, this is the organization that told us Tori Tatum was named as the replacement athlete for the junior Pan Ams specifically because she was age-eligible for the Youth Olympic Games but also had no intention of actually sending a WAG athlete to the Youth Olympic Games anyway.
The other potential risks for Carey are that…a lot can happen in two years. It’s a really, really tough decision to give up an opportunity to go to a World Championship right now for something you might be able to do in two years. Who knows what can happen?
I’m also questioning what this means for NCAA plans. Six of the eight Apparatus World Cup events conflict with NCAA weekends in 2019 and 2020. With the best three world cup results counting in the final standings, athletes must plan to go to a bunch of these meets to ensure they get the necessary results. It’s not exactly a quick and easy jaunt from Oregon State to Qatar or Australia or Azerbaijan and back. Does pursuing this route mean no NCAA until after 2020?
So in the end…I get it and I don’t get it.
I mostly get it for Jade Carey. She wants to seal an Olympic spot for herself without having to rely on these losers at USAG to hand it to her. That makes sense. It is, however, not necessary. Jade Carey could have gone to both worlds this year and the Olympics in 2020, but her individual Olympic spot simply wouldn’t be guaranteed. It would have to be assigned to her at Trials. Just like every other Olympic spot.
For USAG, I don’t remotely get it. This strategy is risky in terms of ensuring six US WAG gymnasts get to the Olympics, and it doesn’t allow for the US to cultivate its best-scoring team come the summer of 2020. Instead, it will be locked into one team member well before the Trials process begins. It very well could work out wonderfully, but it also might not. And if it doesn’t, you’re stuck with it.