Jade Carey

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Olympic age rule stirs reaction from gymnastics community

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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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Jade Carey mathematically clinches first U.S. Olympic gymnastics berth

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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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As Simone Biles eyes farewell, Olympic gymnastics picture jumbles

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When Simone Biles decided to come back for a second Olympic run, she could not have envisioned this kind of history: Biles, if she makes the Tokyo Olympic team, will become the second U.S. female gymnast in the last 50 years to span eight years competing at the highest international level.

Biles, who won her first world all-around title in 2013, would join Dominique Dawes, an Olympian in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

“Mentally, going another year, I think that’s what going to take a toll,” Biles, expected to retire after Tokyo, said on TODAY two weeks ago.

Had the Olympics been held this summer, Biles, 23, would have still bid to become the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast since 2004, and the oldest U.S. Olympic female gymnast to ever win a gold medal. Those feats, if accomplished in 2021, will have been even harder earned given the current circumstances.

“You’re working against time, your body, your mind, a growing phase, so many different things,” NBC Olympics analyst Nastia Liukin said. “So it’s definitely scary, I think, for a lot of those that were vying for a spot on the team to rethink and wonder, where am I going to be in a year?”

One month ago, before sports were halted indefinitely, the U.S. Olympic team situation was this: Biles an overwhelming favorite to clinch one of the four team-event spots at June’s Olympic Trials. Another 10 or so women in the mix for the other three spots.

After Biles, the next name mentioned has to be Sunisa Lee. The 17-year-old from Minnesota was runner-up to Biles in her senior nationals debut last August. She then joined Biles in the world championships all-around in October, placing eighth, though she would have earned a medal if not for an uncharacteristic fall off her best apparatus, the uneven bars.

“If [Lee] has a year coming up like she had last year, then she’s going to be hard-pressed to not make that Olympic team,” NBC Olympics analyst Tim Daggett said.

Decisions in the last week altered the picture. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) ruled that the most recent international Olympic qualifying competition in March, which was halted between qualifying and finals, will have those qualifying scores count as final results.

If nothing else changes, that means that Jade Carey became the first American gymnast to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics — in individual events, but not as part of the four-woman team-event roster. One more American woman can be named to the Olympics in individual events only apart from the four-woman team.

Also, the federation made a ruling on age minimums that led the gymnastics community to believe that current 15-year-olds, who would be too young for a 2020 Olympics, were made eligible for 2021.

At least one gymnast who turned 16 or younger in the Olympic year made the last 10 U.S. Olympic women’s teams. Konnor McClain and Skye Blakely, second and fourth at last year’s junior nationals, just entered the already crowded picture for Olympic team spots.

Older gymnasts in contention include: Morgan Hurd, who won the world all-around title during Biles’ one-year break in 2017. Hurd did not make the six-woman world championships team last year but rebounded to win the American Cup last month.

MyKayla Skinner, a Rio Olympic alternate looking to become the first U.S. female gymnast with NCAA experience to make an Olympic team since Brown’s Alicia Sacramone in 2008.

Kayla DiCello, last year’s junior national champion who impressed enough there and at national team camps to be named, along with Hurd, to the American Cup.

And Kara Eaker and Grace McCallum, the two women other than Biles to compete for the U.S. at each of the last two world championships.

“There are going to be four athletes [who don’t make the team], at least, that anywhere else in the world will win an Olympic medal,” Daggett said.

A variable brought by the coronavirus pandemic: Some athletes still have gym time. Biles tweeted Thursday that she has not been training. Others around the world have home set-ups, equipment included.

“That’s the biggest piece of concern for a lot of people,” Liukin said. “I don’t think I ever took more than a long weekend off. That’s scary. It’s scary to think that you could possibly be going months without doing gymnastics on the equipment, and then wondering how long is it going to take for me to get back to where I was before all this happened.”

Many of the top U.S. men often work out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, but that was shut down last month. How will it affect Sam Mikulak, bidding to become the fist U.S. male gymnast to span nine or more years among Olympic appearances since 1948? Or Yul Moldauer, the 2017 U.S. all-around champion who battled injuries the last two years (and recently started training on a pommel horse in a garage).

The biggest name in men’s gymnastics is Kohei Uchimura, the eight-time Olympic or world all-around champion from Japan. Uchimura fought injuries every year of this Olympic cycle to hang on for 2020. His finish line just extended another year.

“For guys that are older and have been sidelined for a longer period of time, coming back from injuries, I think it’s going to be harder for them,” Daggett said. “[Uchimura] may come out of this better, but I would say that the odds are against that. He had a long period of time to figure out what his plan was. They had already taken the time off that they needed to address some of those physical issues. Now, it’s a very long road again.”

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