The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Tokyo 2021?

Well, that’s that then.

IOC member Dick Pound (see, it’s funny because dick means penis) spilled the beans as he usually does, this time revealing that the IOC has decided to postpone the Tokyo Olympics. Neither the IOC nor Tokyo have actually said anything official about that, but this has seemed inevitable and obvious for multiple days now, so we’re all jumping on this opportunity finally to treat it like it’s real instead of dancing around the idea.

Just yesterday, the IOC announced a four-week window in which to make a decision, but that now seems to have been more about determining the logistics of a postponement (which are many, and complicated) rather than actually deciding whether to postpone.

Even before this latest news, the Canadian and Australian committees announced that they wouldn’t send athletes to a 2020 Olympics, even if it were held, and you can be sure none of us would accept the concept of an Olympics without Ellie Black. That was the nail in the coffin.


We don’t really know. The likely outcome at this point seems to be a one-year postponement to the summer of 2021, but even that hasn’t been confirmed. It could be a shorter postponement (unlikely). It could be a longer postponement (shut your stupid mouth). The IOC did say yesterday that cancellation was not an option, which we hope is true, but they’ve also previously said that postponement was not an option, and it’s the IOC, so…

If we do work under the assumption that a Tokyo Olympics goes ahead in the summer of 2021 (and I’m not mentally secure enough to entertain other more drastic options right now), there are several gymnastics implications to work through.

The most challenging of which, I think, is what to do about the athletes who will turn senior in 2021. Are they now eligible to compete, because the event is happening in 2021? Or is this still the 2020 Olympics (just happening a little late) and therefore must be held with the 2020 Olympics rules, which would deem those athletes too young to compete?

This is quite a significant issue to resolve because athletes like Konnor McClain, Skye Blakely, and Viktoria Listunova would be legitimate contenders to be named to teams, and win Olympic medals, if deemed eligible.

I don’t think there’s a clear-cut or obvious answer to this one. My initial instinct is always toward giving more athletes these opportunities, which is why I would lean toward allowing the 2021 seniors to compete at the Olympics, but there are major complications to that.

The biggest issue there is one of inconsistency. In pretty much every other respect, this event needs to be treated as the 2020 Olympics with the 2020 Olympic rules maintained—particularly when it comes to which code of points to use. The FIG is supposed to unveil the official 2021-2024 code of points this year, but I would strongly oppose the idea of using a new 2021 code at the Olympics, even if those Olympics are held in 2021. The Olympics is the culmination of a quadrennium and should use the rules that were in place for the entirety of that quad.

You have to use the 2017-2020 code (now 2017-2021) at this Olympics and push the next code of points to be in effect from 2022-2024. This has happened before, as the 2001-2004 code was also used in 2005 before open-ended scoring came into effect in 2006, and I don’t think is a very controversial take.

Of course you have to use the 2017-2020 code, but if you’re treating this like the 2020 Olympics in terms of the rules, do you also have to treat it like the 2020 Olympics in terms of who is age eligible?

(The more I think about that question, the more I think the answer is yes.)

Another issue that arises would be what to do about the currently scheduled 2021 World Championships in Copenhagen. If the Olympics are moved to the summer of 2021, then a world championships would take place just a few months after the Olympics. Now, I think we’re all on board with the following reaction: “And? What’s the problem there? That sounds great.”

So, ideally, those worlds wouldn’t get moved or scrapped as part of any schedule readjustment. Certainly, many of the Olympic athletes wouldn’t turn around and go straight to compete at worlds a few months later, but that could make a 2021 worlds an exciting opportunity for the non-Simones to win some medals, which is pretty much what happens in Cold Gymnastics.

And then there’s the problem of the disrupted qualification system. Obviously, it would be crazy-unfair to restart that system in any way, so anyone who is already qualified to the Olympics should remain qualified, and anyone who has already earned points toward qualification should retain those points.

Ideally, the system would just start up again in 2021 exactly when it stopped in 2020, with the remaining apparatus world cups, all-around world cups, and continental championships held then—the 2021 versions of those events replacing the 2020 versions that were never held in the qualification calendar.

Continental championships that aren’t typically held yearly or in the same format each year would have to adjust, but that seems a manageable adjustment.

The one issue there may be the fairness of using Melbourne 2020 and American Cup 2020 points since—even though those events went ahead—they were affected by the virus for some athletes (i.e. the Chinese athletes not being able to attend Melbourne). So it’s not ideal, but I still think you have to count those events because they did happen.

The athletes. Oh yes them. There would be some interesting athlete dynamics when it comes to who can better adjust for a 2021 Olympics. I find it very interesting that we heard from a number of the US MAG athletes in favor of postponing (along with many athletes in other sports) but heard little from the US WAG athletes about wanting to postpone.

The schedules of the US WAG athletes are so specifically planned with regard to starting NCAA and rely on the Olympics happening in a specific year, and do I think that was a major contributor to the women’s relative reticence in supporting postponement. Or, they just know their ankles will be fully dust given another whole year of elite-intensity training. That too.

I will be fascinated to watch what someone like Riley McCusker decides to do. She was already in a bad spot, out of a gym, and sounding pretty Ready For Florida about her situation, even before the virus. Training in Arizona is no longer a couple-month solution. It’s more than a year. Will she decide to keep going for the Olympics?

MyKayla Skinner is also in a difficult position because she was intending to take one year off from Utah, try for the Olympics, and then return to Utah for the 2021 season. You’re theoretically supposed to finish your four years of eligibility in a five-year span, though we do see plenty of exceptions (Peng’s sixth year). Still, it means that pushing the Olympics back to 2021 isn’t as simple as just “well, then I’ll train for the Olympics for another year” in Skinner’s case. There are other moving parts and priorities.

Meanwhile, Morgan Hurd was already planning to defer college and compete elite in 2021…almost like she knew something we didn’t. I’m not saying Morgan is an oracle, I’m just saying…look at the evidence around you.

On the flip side, a postponement is wonderful news for athletes like Asuka Teramoto, whose torn Achilles was going to keep her out of her home Olympics, or for Laurie Hernandez or Aliya Mustafina, who have been given the gift of more time to get into Olympic-level form.

I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts as we go, but that’s the initial blurt.

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