The IX: Gymnastics Saturday with Jessica Taylor Price, May 8, 2021
What Asian Championships cancellation means for Olympics — Thoughts from Gymnast Alliance Australia — Must-click links
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Another one bites the dust
This week, we found out that the 2021 Asian Championships are officially cancelled.
Guys, this is a big deal. You might even call it a disaster of Olympic-sized proportions. If you’re unfamiliar, at each continental gymnastics championship, the top two eligible all-arounders in qualifications are supposed to get individual Olympic spots (with the exception of Oceania, which gets one). Now, the cancellation of Asia’s continental championships has created a serious opportunity disparity between nations, thanks to the FIG’s weird policies.
We’ll start with the fine print in the FIG’s recently revised qualification rules, which included a contingency plan in the event of a cancellation:
Should the Continental Championships not take place or not be held by latest 29 June 2021, the unused quota place(s) of the respective continent will be reallocated to the next highest ranked eligible All-Around athlete from the same continent by name based on the All-Around results from Qualifications of the 2019 World Championships from an NOC without a qualified team, respecting a maximum of one (1) athlete per NOC.
Now, I’m still unclear as to what “one per NOC” means in this context — whether it means one per country in this instance alone, or including all of the athletes who have already qualified as all-arounders from that same qualification pool (The IX has reached out to the FIG for clarity on this point) — but the likely scenario is the latter. ESPN certainly seems to think so, as they reported that India’s Pranati Nayak and Milka Gehani of Sri Lanka have both qualified, meaning countries who had already qualified a spot from this pool were not considered.
Why does it matter that the spots were given to India and Sri Lanka? It’s obviously a great thing for Nayak and Gehani, and it makes the pool of qualifiers two countries more diverse. But that wasn’t the purpose of the continental qualifications — rather, it was supposed to reward countries that had programs with depth, as the top nations tend to do well at these competitions. In this case, that would likely have been Japan, which has qualified a team along with apparatus qualifier Urara Ashikawa, and South Korea, which has already qualified two individuals and had the chance here to send the most gymnasts (so far) of any country that didn’t qualify a team.
Faced with the possibility of a cancellation, the FIG had a few different options. They could have just gone with their all-around world cup cancellation plan, which was pretty much “they’re going to get it anyway, so … Russia, China, and the U.S.,” or in this case, Japan and South Korea. If they wanted, they could have still used the 2019 world all-around qualification pool and included athletes whose countries had already qualified teams. This would have made it unfair to nations who actually had to fight for a spot at continentals, but then again, Nayak and Gehani didn’t do that, either.
As it is, this policy of one per NOC forever is probably the least fair option they could have gone with. While Russia got to qualify a spot at Euros and Great Britain got to contend for one (I’m calling Larisa Iordache an outlier in this case), Japan does not. It’s not as bad as if, say, China didn’t get to bring a sixth person and had to leave behind an individual medal contender. But still. Admittedly, the pandemic was an unpredictable wrench in the FIG’s plans, but the solution they’ve created is bonkers.
Canada RSVPs no to Pan Ams
On top of this debacle, Team Canada announced on Friday that it will not be attending the Pan American Championships due to the pandemic:
This means Canada will only have a team of four at the Olympics, essentially eliminating the possibility for a Canadian event specialist to be sent to Tokyo. Brazil, meanwhile, is seemingly dead set on hosting Pan Ams despite still being in the red COVID-wise.
This has created a situation where a country’s pandemic status — as well as the federation’s risk budget — determines whether it can compete for an additional Olympic spot, which seems like something the FIG should have anticipated. With this in mind, removing these competitions from the qualification process probably would have been the best course of action back when the qualification rules were revised, instead of creating the contingency plan outlined above. Now, we have federations having to make difficult decisions — ones they should not have been forced to make — not to mention much confusion. *Sigh* at least we have Larisa.
Luckily, China is not affected by any of this — they’ve already qualified the maximum of six gymnasts. I say “luckily” because, based what we’ve seen so far at Chinese nationals, this team is quite deep and having to leave an individual at home would have been disastrous. I’ll have more of an overview next week after the competition is fully over, but for now, here are just a few quick hits, thanks to the Chinese gymternet.
Lu Yufei won the all-around title with the highest two-day score, beating out Li Shijia, who led after qualifications. Lu finished her day with this floor routine:
Ou Yushan had the highest two-day floor score, with a routine featuring this incredible, incredible pass:
Li Shijia had the highest beam score on day one, a 15.4:
And Fan Yilin, the apparatus world cup qualifier for bars, stuck her dismount cold to qualify in first:
More on this next week 😉
Athlete safety news
The Australian Human Rights Commission released a report on abuse in Australian gymnastics, and it’s damning. Read a summary of the findings, along with individual stories from former athletes (ABC News). Gymnastics Australia has issued an apology, as has the Western Australian Institute of Sport. Check out Five at the IX for reactions from a member of the Gymnast Alliance Australia.
A German coach was dismissed from her job at the Olympic training center after Pauline Schäfer and others accused her of abuse (ESPN).
This longform piece about our assumption that gymnasts should basically be children is well worth your time, especially if you’re following Chellsie Memmel’s comeback (The New York Times Magazine).
Alexis Vasquez retired and had some thoughts about her time at Denver.
Minnesota has two big stars returning for a COVID year.
Why don’t any Texas D1 colleges have gymnastics? My mind wanders (The Battalion).
There was some drama this week over the British selection process, beginning with an opaque tweet from Becky Downie:
We can’t be sure that this is what she’s referring to, but apparently, British Gymnastics decided last-minute to require gymnasts to use Gymnova equipment at this weekend’s trials, putting Downie at a disadvantage (The Daily Mail has the full scoop). Also, it looks like Alice Kinsella faced some bullying amidst arguments over whether the selection procedures are fair; this led to her gym releasing scores from recent qualifiers and Downie coming to her defense. Now, British Gymnastics says they’ll release videos and scores from the weekend’s trials.
Also, “Potential to medal in 2024” is part of their selection criteria, which, why???
We also just found out that sadly, the Downie sisters’ brother Josh passed away just a couple days ago at the age of 24. Our deepest sympathies go out to the Downie family during this difficult time.
Ellie Black dominated at virtual Elite Canada, followed by Ava Stewart in her senior debut.
We have our Kerri Strug! The lead role has been cast for the Kerri Strug biopic, entitled Perfect (Vanity Fair).
The NBC Olympics promo is Simone flying off into space, which was literally an Onion article:
Tweets of the week
Because I couldn’t pick just one.
SO AM I THO
Five at the IX: Sarah Ritchie
Sarah Ritchie was a gymnast at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS) from 1987–97 (ages five to 15) and is a current member of the Gymnast Alliance Australia (GAA). Here’s what she had to say in response to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) report.
What is your personal reaction to the report released by the AHRC? Do you think the report accurately reflected the severity of the situation?
For me the report was a bit of a relief; we had finally been heard and our experiences recognised. Recounting my time as a gymnast for my submission, and also to the WAIS board when we approached them last October, was an extremely painful experience, but having that acknowledgement of the abuse and the new potential for real change in the sport shows it was worth it.
We knew all along that the AHRC was going to be taking a broad look at gymnastics, and some of the information contained within it is quite damning and very real for us, and it is a great start to acknowledging the controlling culture and abuse that a lot of us grew up in. Now is the time for the state institutes to conduct their own investigations into what happened in their own facilities.
What needs to happen next to create a healthy environment for Australia’s gymnasts?
The AHRC outlines some pretty significant recommendations, and I would agree with all of them. The abusive culture was able to flourish due to zero accountability or oversight, where complaints were quashed or covered up. There needs to be an easily accessible outside source for complaints so that accountability is met. Parents should be able to watch their children train, question the coaching, and have full knowledge of what is happening inside the gym. Parents should have the opportunity to be present for all medical, psychological, and other necessary appointments and access to those reports, rather than have the coaches taking full ownership of this. There needs to be an overhaul of the attitude towards food and weight — nutrition and body functionality need to be more important than aesthetic slimness and low weight.
I also think it is important for each state to investigate both previous and current programs to see what went wrong specifically in those institutes, and also to check whether they still employ coaches and administrators associated with complaints from gymnasts – I really don’t feel true cultural change can happen if we are still employing the people involved in positions of power in sport.
What is your response to Gymnastics Australia’s apology? To WAIS’ apology?
Gymnastics Australia’s apology used strong, sincere language. It called the abuse exactly what it was, didn’t deflect or try to minimise their accountability in it, and also spoke of its plans to action change. WAIS’ apology was watered down, choosing to use minimising language like “distress or injury” rather than admit to the abuse that happened. To me it felt a bit like they were apologising for how we feel, rather than apologising for the actions of their staff and administrators. There was no accountability, no real acknowledgment that athletes were abused, and no indication that they were going to look into any of their sport processes or administration.
What impact do you hope this will have on gymnastics culture on a global scale?
I hope that this will be the start of a cultural shift. Elite gymnastics can be achieved without tearing down the child, without the belittling and injury mismanagement, without creating women with disordered eating and disordered exercising. I think it’s time to stop believing that only children can be Olympic gymnasts — the adult body is capable of just as many amazing feats, and we should look at training for gymnastics as a sport that can be competed into adulthood. The attrition rate of elite gymnastics due to career-ending injury is atrocious. If we treat gymnasts, and their training, with longevity in mind (rather than allowing an environment where teenagers require hip replacements and shoulder reconstructions because they have been forced to compete on injuries) and encourage proper nutrition over ridiculously low body fat ratios, we might see more adult gymnasts at the big world events.
With the Olympics just a couple months away, what do you hope the public takes away from this report? Should they continue to enjoy the sport as they did before?
I think the girls and women competing need our respect, and for us to remember that many of them are a part of this change. If anything, I hope the public will be watching and cheering their accomplishments even more, having some new insight into what they have endured and overcome to make it to that level.