The road to Tokyo: how rhythmic gymnasts qualify for the next Olympics

We cannot wait for Olympic qualification to start

The rhythmic gymnastics Olympics qualification system underwent major changes for the 2020 cycle and thanks to some digging in FIG’s documents we can see almost the whole picture

The process needs to be amended by the International Olympic Committee, and then it will be final and official. But we can show the qualification process outlined in the official documents.

HOW MANY RHYTHMIC GYMNASTS CAN COMPETE IN TOKYO 2020?

96. 26 of these will be individuals and 14 groups of 5 gymnasts. As in Rio 2016, groups cannot nominate six gymnasts.

That is to do with the extremely strict number limitations at an Olympic Games. More than 11 000 athletes are expected to compete in Tokyo. This is a major organisational and logistical strain on the Local Organising Committee. The International Olympic Committee will set the numbers and lays down the law with it.

WHAT ARE THE MAJOR CHANGES?

The Olympic Test Event, which served as a second step of qualification is scrapped. There will most probably be some kind of test event, but it won’t be the part of qualification.

A part of me is missing the drama of the test events. Remember Liza Nazarenkova dashing for her apparatus, which went down from the elevated podium, taking her Olympic dreams with it? Patricia Bezzoubenko being a sure-fire Olympic candidate when she entered for her last routine, in which she finished without apparatus and missed out on the Games? Jana Berezko crying in the dressing rooms just to be told that after Bezzoubenko’s mistake she caught the final ticket to Rio? She thought the German delegation leader was joking.

A part of me is not missing it at all. The Olympic qualification system was very hard on the gymnasts.

The medalists of Rio – the road of their successors will be a little different

If you had a bad day at the Olympic qualification World Championships, that might have meant that three years of your work went down the drain. The rule of countries finishing in the top 15 of the Olympic qualification Worlds in individual could not send more gymnasts to the Games was really messing with some gymnasts.

Victoria Filanovsky was in the top 10 all year in 2015, she badly messed up the Worlds, and as Neta Rivkin was in the top 15, her Olympic chances were gone. Elizaveta Nazarenkova missed the top 15 by 0.117 points and went down at the Test Event by 0.334. Less than half a point of a difference in the two events – and the Olympics is gone. Ukraine, Israel, Bulgaria missed out on the chance to send a second gymnast.

I definitely do not miss the controversies. Alexandra Piscupescu competing with a black armband of mourning in London to call out the judges is one of the saddest RG moments for me. In the new system, gymnasts can qualify in three or four ways, not mentioning the host places and tripartite wildcard.

Victoria Filanovsky was quite hardly done by the Rio qualification rules

INDIVIDUAL QUALIFICATION SYSTEM

There are 26 places at the Olympics.

First 16 of the All-Around Final at the 2019 World Championships (to be held in Baku, Azerbaijan) will qualify. Maximum 2 gymnasts per country can do so. Quotas are non-nominative, e.g. the place goes to Russia, not Dina Averina. (16 places)

3 best ranked gymnasts of the 2020 World Cup Series qualify (only the ones who have no quota yet). Maximum 1 gymnast per country can obtain a quota. Countries that already have 2 Olympic spots from 2019 are excluded. Countries with 1 or 0 Olympic spots from 2019 are eligible. The qualification list will be based on the 3 best All-Around results in the 2020 World Cup Series. Quotas are non-nominative, the place goes to the nation, not the gymnast.

This is a major change and a very good one: instead of putting the gymnasts under the pressure of one (or two) must-do competition, this gives the chance for the ones who are reliable over a competition series. (3 places)

5 continental places based on the 2020 Continental Championships. The best ranked gymnasts (without an Olympic quota) by continents qualify. The list is based on the All-Around results of the Continental Championships 2020. So there will be one place for Europe, Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. These quotas are nominative, so the gymnast taking the spot is going to the Olympics. If a continent does not have a Continental Championships in May 2020, its continental place is lost and will be re-allocated. (5 places)

Japan, as host country gets 1 place. Probably this quota won’t be needed. If the host quota is not needed, it is re-allocated to the best ranked gymnast at the 2019 World Championships who is still without a quota (1 place)

Tripartite Invitation Place for 1 gymnast. Tripartite place must be applied for and the IOC Tripartite Commission will decide. The gymnast must have participated at the 2019 World Championships. This is a quota for universal participation and reserved for small countries.

If this quota is not used (no-one applies for it), the best gymnast of the 2019 World Championships still without a quota will get the place.  Only countries which had an average of 8 or less athletes in their team at the last two Olympics can apply for the Tripartite Invitation Place. (1 place)

COUNTRIES AVAILABLE FOR TRIPARTITE SELECTION

Afghanistan, American Samoa, Andorra, Aruba, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Bermuda, Bhutan, British Virgin Islands, Brunei, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Cape Verde, Cayman Islands, Central African Republic, Comoros, DR Congo, Djibouti, Dominica, Equatorial Guinea, Gambia, Guam, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Kiribati, Kosovo, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Liechtenstein, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Micronesia, Monaco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, Oman, Palau, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Togo, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Virgin Islands, Yemen, Zambia.

This list of course might change – as well as the regulations –, but as we stand now, a gymnast of Andorra, Cape Verde, Macedonia, San Marino or Sri Lanka might have a chance to compete in RG in Tokyo. Those are the eligible countries that have at least one gymnast with a valid FIG licence.

Groups will already go for Olympic places at the 2018 World Championships in Sofia

GROUPS QUALIFICATION SYSTEM

There are 14 places at the Olympics

First 3 groups of the 2018 (yes, 2018) World Championships will qualify. Only the best 24 countries of the 2018 World Championships may enter the next phase, so if your group messes up in Sofia, it’s over. (3 places)

Best 5 groups of the 2018 World Championships will qualify. Of course the 3 who got their Olympic ticket in 2018 will not be eligible. (5 places)

5 continental places based on the 2020 Continental Championships. The best ranked groups of the continents, based on the Continental Championships General Competition (Qualification) are going to Tokyo. Unused quotas will be re-allocated. If there is no Continental Championships, that continental place is lost and will be re-allocated. (5 places)

Japan, as host country gets 1 place. This quota will probably not be needed, as Japan is a good bet in either finishing on the AA podium in 2018 or at least get one of the 5 places up for grabs in 2018. If not needed, this place will re-allocated to the best ranked group at the 2019 World Championships which is still without a quota (1 place)

Some gymnasts will be showing hearts, but for some, heart will be broken by missing out on qualification

VERDICT

The qualification system looks much better and more forgiving now. Excellence over a longer period is valued with the quotas distributed at the World Cups for individuals, so a bad World Championships does not mean the Olympic dream is over.

Hopefully the Tripartite Invitation Place cannot knock a continental quota out. We all remember Grace Legote missing out on Rio because the Tripartite Place (given to Elyane Boal of Cape Verde) was knocking her from the continental spot. All continents deserve to be represented by their best gymnast at the Olympics – distribute all places and when every continent has a representation, dish out the Tripartite Invitation.

It looks like the controversial “if your country is in the top 15 of the Worlds in the year before the Olympics, you cannot qualify more gymnasts” is scrapped. No-one will miss it. This means strong second gymnasts have one more chance. This might be bad news for high mid-ranking countries.

We will still not see the very best of the gymnasts, as universality is a top rule of the Olympics. The Olympic Qualification World Championships will still take place. Anyone who had seen one of those, can confirm that it’s a competition on a different level. The stakes are high, the gymnasts are usually in very good form, the tension is huge. In comparison, the other World Championships look almost friendly competitions.

Of course, as with everything, judgment will come when we see the qualification in effect. But it looks like FIG had done a good work in revamping a much-criticised system.

OPEN QUESTIONS

  • How will the qualification affect continental federations? For example PanAm Games (the continental championships of the Americas) are held in 2019. But as per the qualification document only Continental Championships held in May 2020 are qualifiers. Does that mean that an extra continental championships have to be organised?

  • Are first-year gymnasts excluded from qualifying via the 2020 Continental Championships? The document says “provided that the respective athlete has participated at the 2019 World Championships”. That’s bad news for first year seniors or the ones who are missing the Worlds with an injury or illness..