While sports are halted, Jade Carey sewed up her spot on the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.
Carey was 99 percent of the way there before the coronavirus pandemic. It became a mathematical certainty following an International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) decision last week.
Last Thursday, the FIG announced that an Olympic qualifier in March in Baku, Azerbaijan, that was halted between qualifying and finals due to the global virus concerns would still count in the standings. The qualifying round results will count as final results.
Carey didn’t compete in Baku, but the results combined with her already substantial standings lead meant she mathematically clinched her own Olympic spot with one qualifying competition left.
FIG officials confirmed Tuesday that this qualification process — one of multiple ways gymnasts can qualify — will otherwise remain the same. No more qualifying competitions will be added outside of the one left to be rescheduled.
In earlier Olympic qualifying competitions, Carey earned the maximum points on floor exercise, where one Olympic spot was available. Now, nobody can catch her.
She was surprised the FIG decided to count Baku qualifying results as final results, given top gymnasts often perform easier routines in qualifying. This avoids the risk of a major error to rule them out of finals, but also means they may not place as high in qualifying, where scores don’t carry over to finals.
“I’ve done a lot of these meets, and I’ve worked really hard to get my points,” said Carey, who since 2018 competed in Germany, Azerbaijan, Qatar and Australia in qualifying. “But I don’t know. I guess it just won’t feel totally real until it’s all over and I know for sure.”
That end date is unknown. The last World Cup, originally scheduled for Doha, Qatar, in late March and rescheduled for early June is now postponed indefinitely.
Nonetheless, Carey mathematically clinched a chance to compete in all of the individual events at the Olympics — all-around, balance beam, floor exercise, uneven bars and vault. She did so via the only route where a U.S. gymnast can qualify without needing to be chosen by a USA Gymnastics selection committee.
The one downside to accepting an Olympic spot this way: Carey would not be able to compete in the team competition at the Olympics. Those four U.S. Olympic team spots are expected to be determined at and after an Olympic Trials in 2021, with Simone Biles likely grabbing one of them.
Carey’s father and coach, Brian, said she still plans to compete at trials “to show that she’s ready if need be” for the team event. If Carey declines the Olympic spot earned individually in pursuit of a team spot, the U.S. could lose the individual spot altogether and be limited to one individual gymnast at the Olympics rather than two. This all depends on how overall Olympic qualification — and their remaining competitions — are amended for 2021.
Carey is a world medalist on vault and floor, but nobody other than Biles can feel safe trying to make the Olympic team-event roster of four. Carey made a late move to the elite level — at age 17 in 2017 — and is committed to compete for Oregon State after the Tokyo Games.
Olympic team event roster sizes were cut from five to four for Tokyo, putting a greater onus on all-around prowess given a team must put three gymnasts on each apparatus in the Olympic final.
NBC Olympic researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.
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