For a sport as subjective as gymnastics, there are continuous changes in the rules, the skills and the qualification process with every quadrennium, ending with the Olympic Games. Easily the biggest and most prestigious competition for any gymnast anywhere in the world, just qualifying to it has become quite the task.
Post the 2016 Rio Olympics; there have been numerous changes in the qualification process for the upcoming 2020 Games.
A team can now compromise only four members while the country can send two other individual athletes. This works for a country like India, which consists of some event specialists who aim to medal on their most influential events.
The new qualification process also seems conducive to countries that do not dominate the gymnastics world.
Let’s look at some of the alternatives when it comes to qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics so that we may know where we stand.
Option 1 :
The qualification for teams for the Olympics start at this year’s World Championships held in Doha, but since India is not sending a team, this option does not stand.
However, a better strategy for the country to gain spots at the Olympics would be via the new ‘Apparatus World Cup’ route. You may have heard of Aruna Reddy who medaled at the Melbourne World Cup earlier this year or Dipa Karmakar who won vault at the World Cup in Turkey.
To qualify through this method, a gymnast is given eight opportunities to attend many such Apparatus World Cups starting in November 2018 through to the Olympic year and must submit their three best finishes at the respective competitions. Similarly, the best three finishes for every gymnast are calculated, and the winner of each event at the end of this series will qualify an individual spot to the Olympics. What is critical to note is that this spot belongs to that specific gymnast who won it and not to the country, hence if that gymnast gets injured in the Olympic year, an alternate gymnast from the nation cannot gain the spot.
For gymnasts like Rakesh Patra, Dipa Karmakar or Aruna Reddy, this route although very competitive, proves a viable option as they are event specialists and can strategically which of the eight competitions they wish to compete at, piecing together their three best finishes.
The World Championships in 2019 provide another opportunity for our athletes to qualify spots individually to the Games. The top 3 on each event at Worlds qualify a spot independently to the Games. These athletes must be those who did not already qualify via a team or from another competition. If there are not three athletes who meet this criterion, then the qualification standings will be used for that particular event until three gymnasts are selected.
This route provides a spot to the country and not the individual. This qualification is through an all-around competition and not for event specialists. The All-round World Cup route offers four opportunities starting in early 2020, where countries can send athletes to four such World cups, and at the end of the four competitions, the three countries with the best results will qualify a spot to the Olympics. The nation can then decide which athlete to send via this spot.
The Continental Championships route for India is through the Asian Championships held in 2020. This is the final opportunity to qualify athletes to the Olympics. This is necessarily an individual spot for an all-around athlete. The top two all-around finishers at the Championships qualify independently to the Olympics, unless if their country has a qualified team, in which case the spot goes to the country.
This leaves us with four opportunities to qualify athletes to the Olympics Games in Tokyo. The Gymnastics Federation of India must decide strategically which route may be most promising for the country and vocalise this to ensure athletes know how they must prepare and what competitions they choose to compete in.