Olympic age rule stirs reaction from gymnastics community

MyKayla Skinner
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In an interview last week, USA Gymnastics Chief Programs Officer Stefanie Korepin acknowledged an International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) decision regarding an Olympic age eligibility rule created a lot of debate within the sport’s community.

Days later, half of the U.S. women’s team that was sent to the 2019 World Championships voiced their opinions.

The FIG has had a rule since 2000 that female artistic gymnasts must turn 16 or older in that year to compete in the Olympics (and now for world championships in all the non-Olympic years). When the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021, the FIG faced a decision: keep the Olympic field under 2020 terms, or let those turning 16 in 2021 into the fold. It chose the latter in April.

“I see both sides of the coin,” Korepin said. “On one hand, many of our athletes, the Olympics are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of our athletes, and they peak at a specific time. And to have that pool of athletes that they have to compete against for the Olympics changed can be really difficult. But, on the other hand, there are really incredible young athletes who now have an opportunity that they didn’t have before, so we’re excited for them. It’s definitely a mixed bag of emotions, how we feel about it.”

NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin, who won the 2008 Olympic all-around title after being one year too young for the 2004 Athens Games, said before the FIG ruling that she was glad she wasn’t a decision-maker. “I don’t know if there is a right decision,” she said.

Three members of the current U.S. women’s gymnastics team said they disagreed with the FIG decision.

MyKayla SkinnerJade Carey and Sunisa Lee, half of the U.S. team sent to the 2019 World Championships, opined in a wide-ranging YouTube question-and-answer on Skinner’s channel published Monday.

“I think that it was wrong,” said Carey, the lone U.S. gymnast who has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics. “If they’re still going to call it the 2020 Olympics [the Games in 2021 will still be called Tokyo 2020], then everything needs to stay the way that it was going to be.

“No hate towards any of the juniors now. But it’s just not fair to us because now there’s a whole bunch more athletes that could now go. … They’ve been pacing for 2024, and now they’re all just, all of a sudden, try to do it for this one year that they weren’t trying for in the first place.”

Lee, the 2019 U.S. all-around silver medalist behind Simone Biles, said it was really unfair. Skinner, an alternate at the 2016 Olympics and 2019 Worlds who is clinging to one more year of elite gymnastics at age 23, said she hoped the FIG decision could be changed. 

Biles, the lone gymnast considered a lock for the Olympic team (other than Carey), has not publicly shared her opinion. One of her coaches, Cecile Landi, did.

“I have NOTHING against the 2005 generation but I don’t agree with this decision,” was tweeted from Landi’s account on April 9. “It will be the 2020 Olympics so the rules should remain the same as THIS YEAR.”

Konnor McClain is considered by many the U.S.’ top 15-year-old gymnast who just became Tokyo Olympic eligible. Her mom, Lorinda, was surprised the FIG made her eligible and kept the early 2021 goal modest — to earn a place at the Olympic Trials.

“Making it to the trials would be great and keeping that 2024 path on track,” she said. “This [age decision] all made it a little hard because we were on a slow pace. We were working for 2024, so this kind of threw a wrench in our spokes.”

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