This summer in London, the two-per-country rule was once again questioned when reigning World AA Champion Jordyn Wieber was denied a spot in the Olympic AA because two of her teammates placed ahead of her. Even though she qualified fourth, she was bumped out of a spot, while the twenty-eighth qualified gymnast got in the competition.
Other gymnasts who suffered the same fate as Wieber were Anastasia Grishina (RUS, qualified 12th), Jennifer Pinches (GBR, qualified 21st); and Yao Jinnan (CHN, qualified 22nd, 2011 World AA bronze medalist).
After Wieber failed to qualify (a first for a reigning world champion who competed at the Olympics), shouts of unfairness and despair flooded the gymternet. Even four-year fans felt the harshness of the rule: how could it so negatively affect a gymnast they had been prompted to root for, one who didn’t have that major mistake?
Among the naysayers’ arguments was that they would rather see the third best American than the best gymnast from Poland. Also, why do we only have 24 gymnasts in the AA, when prior to 2001, we had 36 gymnasts? Immediately, fans called for the FIG to change the rule for future competitions (some people even called for it to be changed in time for the London AA final!) A flurry of suggestions sprung forth to make the qualification more “fair.”
Through it all, my heart broke for Jordyn, and I was so impressed with how she conducted herself in interviews and continued to support her team, both as a competitor in team finals and then as a spectator during what many thought was her competition to win.
But I also felt for Aly Raisman, who was often vilified for “taking” Jordyn’s spot (when in reality Aly was the first qualified American; Gabby Douglas took the second spot from Jordyn.) If Aly had finished behind her two teammates, would there still be such an outcry? What if Grishina placed ahead of Mustafina—does this scenario affect our sense of fairness?
The rules are well established ahead of time (despite the commentary that these were “new” rules; in reality, this generation of gymnasts –minus Chusovitina and a few others—always competed under these rules). Watching the competition in London brought me back to my “first” Olympics—Barcelona 1992. Watching Kim Zmeskal and Kerri Strug battle for the third spot on the American team was grueling. While Kim was hands down my favorite gymnast, I understood that she should only get to compete if she fairly qualified.
Of course, on the other side of the arena, the “Unified Team” (made up of the defunct Soviet Union) made sure that their top three were in the AA no matter what. After Tatiana Gutsu fell off beam in team optionals, leaving her fourth on her team, the coaches informed third-qualified Roza Galiyeva that she had a knee injury, thus allowing Gutsu back in the competition. She ended up winning the AA Olympic gold.
At this time, there was a large protest of unfair play (though the facts of Galiyeva’s “injury” were not disclosed until well after the competition.) On one side, fans were upset that Gutsu was allowed in—the point of the top 3 rule was so that dominant countries like the former USSR wouldn’t, well, dominate the competitions. If the European Champion failed to qualify, so be it—her own team beat her, the rest of the world shouldn’t have to. The other side felt it was unfair that Gutsu was even disqualified to begin with—the fourth best gymnast from the Unified Team still qualified twenty-four spots ahead of the first qualified Australian (Lisa Read.)
In an attempt at fairness and parity, the FIG has put these rules in place so that competitions are not dominated by one country, or a country’s name. They are also in place so that gymnasts from less-dominant countries can be given moments to shine. After the top Australian AA was 19th in 1992, few thought an Australian would finish in the top 10 in the AA by 2000 (Lisa Skinner, 8th.)
Despite these good intentions, and despite the successes of trail-blazing gymnasts that I am thrilled to celebrate (Verona van de Leur, Daiane dos Santos, Allana Slater, Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, Elizabeth Tweddle, etc.), I understand the frustration of the London Summer Games. Truth is, no matter what amazing “solutions” we come up with, there will always be scenarios where the rules do not work to our sense of fairness or what is right. Barcelona 1992 is a prime example, but lesser discussed is the 1985 World Championships, wherein not one but two gymnasts replaced their own teammates who qualified ahead of them…..
Read the rest of the story in Part Two
Article: Kristen Ras
Photo: Jordyn Wieber
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