There has been quite a bit of publicity given to the two gymnasts per country rule after that rule kept the reigning World Champion Jordyn Wieber out of the All-Around Finals. First let me say, that though this scenario has brought the reality of this rule home to the public, this is by no means the first time gymnastics fans have expressed disagreement. This rule has kept many a legitimate medal contender over the past eight years from even competing for a medal. Jordyn is by far not the first. But watching the reigning World Champion make no major mistakes, put up an incredible All-Around score above 60 points and finish fourth in the qualification round and then finding out that she won’t be able to compete fires up the emotion of the casual and serious gymnastics fan alike.
Let me start out with explaining the official reason behind this rule. The idea was to give countries with less gymnastics resources more chances to both have the honor of competing and representing their country as well as to actually win a medal. Usually having a winner in a final sparks fire for the sport in a country (think Mary Lou Retton in the USA or Beth Tweddle for Great Britain) thereby spreading the sport of gymnastics around the world.
In America, it is almost impossible to understand this rule. In the USA, we value the contributions and the success of the individual. Finding the best performance means finding the best individual. To win but not be pitted against everyone else who might have beat you is not a real win at all. Finding the TRUE best is the highest value. In other cultures the honor of representing your country is the greatest achievement, not the individual winning. Allowing as many as possible to attain that achievement is a higher goal that finding the best.
I think what it really comes down to is if you believe that the “point” of the Olympics or World competition it to celebrate sport across the world and bring all the nations together to compete or if it is an opportunity to find the best individuals in each sport and in the various events of that sport. The medals awarded would say that it is about finding the best. The Olympic spirit would say that it is about brining all nations together. And therein is where you find fans divided around the subject.
Also, they have added rules to limit the number of gymnasts competing from each country (five per team) to allow more individuals from countries that could not qualify a team, again with the idea of spreading gymnastics and allowing more the chance to compete.
For me, it is the results that speak as to the success of these rules. In 2000 there were gymnasts competing in the AA final from 3 countries not fielding a full team. In 04 there were still only 3, 08 there were 4.(TheCouchGymnast) This year there were 4. So in the end, only allowing two gymnasts per country and five gymnasts per team has not really increased the number or countries represented in the All-Around Finals. No gymnast from a non “powerhouse” country has ended up on the podium. It has just meant that no one country can “sweep” the medals. And it has kept many gymnasts that legitimately could have won a medal from even competing.
I will concede however that the same is not true in event finals. Many gymnasts from non powerhouse countries have medaled in the different event finals. Those gymnasts HAVE spurred a spark for gymnastics in their country.
I am American. Though I understand the challenges in many countries of finding the resources and training to compete in a sport like gymnastics, and the desire to have our wonderful sport spread across the world, in the end I think the best should have the opportunity to compete for a medal. No matter what country they are from – or how many are from that country. Before the Olympics started, I counted 13 (ish?) people that had put up one of the top 8 scores in the all-around or on an event this year that did not make their team because of the five per team rule. Some that would have almost surely medaled and did not even have a chance.
In summary, I agree that Jordyn is one of many victims of this rule. And I even agree that this backlash would not have happened had Aly been the one who did not make it. But Aly is not the reigning World Champion, and in fact has not placed in the all-around at all on the world stage. And many, many fans have been complaining these rules for years. This situation just highlights why it is so frustrating. I am hoping that the backlash from it will actually bring some change. If the change had been more gymnasts to compete, a wider variety of countries to medal, then keeping it might make sense. But it was a well intended attempt that has not worked. It is time to put it to rest and allow those who have scored in the the top the opportunity to fight for a medal.
The outrage of Nastia Liukin getting silver instead of gold on bars in 2008 even though she scored the exact same D score and E score as the gold medalist He Kexin led to a rule change for this Olympics. And though it will never give Nastia a gold on bars, it at least will keep others from the same fate. And though Jordyn Wieber will never get to compete in the 2012 All-Around finals, hopefully she will be the last gymnast to experience that fate.