Third is a Lonely Place to Be
By Gina Pongetti
The two per country rule (TPC) continues to be frustrating for the United States. It is for the men and women. To be honest, it makes you think about your lineup, and who you put in. In the end, in team preliminaries, you want to put your best foot forward. But, for the women, for instance, if we could have qualified 3 or even 4 people in to the all around finals, for a potential medal sweep, then would we have tried to do so? We sure could have, hands down.
Understandably so, the Olympics is for the best in the world to be on a stage like no other. It is amazing to give people the opportunity to shine in their home countries, to be groundbreakers (like the first time athletes), but the awards podium would be much different if it were allowed to show the actual best in the world.
Yes, I am getting a bit political here, but it needs to be said. I am the very proud parent of three beautiful children under the age of seven. They are not superstar athletes, now or maybe ever, who knows. They are not on traveling baseball teams. They are kids. And at the right time and place, appreciation for participation is allowed. My husband and I argue constantly about the handicap in golf. As explained numerous times to me, it is so that golfers can actually “compete” with one another on the same playing field, so to speak, so that the ones that are not as good as the others get to see how they did particularly on that day, and on that course, and that time in their lives. Totally fine for a country club match-up, or a girls nine and dine. But… why do we even the playing field at the Olympics? Just absurd.
Your dreams are at the cusp of a four inch wide apparatus. Aly and Gabby, going into the last event, were a half of a point apart. Gabby showed the world what she looks like when her training has “peaked” and her focus is on. Aly brought her game, and in the end, came out on top. And one of the best beam workers in Douglas will not even be able to content for a medal. Just sad.
In the beginning, it was always in the hands of Martha Karolyi and the selection committee. Why? Because we, literally, could have brought two teams, qualified both of them for team finals, and an extra two all-arounders as well. Whomever did the AA for the USA had to fight for the second spot. Simone, barring a Tsunami, could have left skills out and still qualified. The second (because of the TPC rule) was a given to qualify, it was just simply who would be given the chance to even do all four, and who would fare the best in finals. America’s 2012 Reigning all-around champion sits on the sidelines, just like 2011 all-around world champion Jordan Wieber did in London. Wow.
With regards to the men, Leyva could have easily qualified for a third spot in the all-around as well. If it was even an option.. For China, Lin Chaopan was 6th on Pbars, and as one of the world’s best, and over 2 tenths better than the final qualifier, he was skipped as the third man from China. A shame. No US man got skipped over, But Barretto Junior from brazil and Bevan from Great Britain, nearly 1.3 points above the final qualifier. Not fair. In this case, it then makes the team qualifiers so much more of an individual sport when you are from a really good country as opposed to being a stand out from a mediocre nation where you will fall into the top two naturally. That means that you have to beat your own to have a chance to beat the rest of the world. Pathetic. It is really difficult for the men because of the amount of even stand-outs, and the fact that there are six events. The “skip-overs” are far fewer in general. Max Whitlock, from England, was quoted to say that he believes it is doing the opposite of what it is intended to do, in a different way. It essentially makes the countries that are strong already “even stronger” because of the inter-country competitiveness. Martha Karolyi agrees that is makes the girls figh harder, individually, too.
Let’s revisit the women’s program, again…
Trust. The. System.
Trust the selection process, that it will give us a team that has the best possible statistical chance at coming home with the most medals. Of course, the team competition being the most important.
How many others from the USA should have been in the finals?
For the USA:
Douglas (3rd in the AA)
Douglas (Tie-7th on Beam)
Raisman (Tie-7th on Beam)
**Note: Douglas (9th Floor was skipped but if the TRUE top 8 advance, she was 9th)
That is four routines that should have been done. Three people who should have had the chance to compete more, and three medals that could have been earned (Why not 4? Because we had four people in the top “8” on beam, and only 3 places on the podium. A sweep is the max you can get, if the rules changed)
As team captain Aly Raisman said to NBC, “Who cares if there’s five Chinese girls in the finals. If they are the best, they should compete.”
Just as the Title 9 rule in sports sometimes backfires, this is the case as well. With Title 9, the original plan was to ensure that men’s sports didn’t take all of the money, resources, time, venues, etc, and make it so that there was no room for women’s sports to increase and ultimately thrive. The slippery slope with this, is that some schools will eliminate men’s sports in order to even the playing field with women’s sports, and that, to the men, is just not fair…again.
In general, the more people that do gymnastics, both in the United States and in the World, makes it better for all. It increases viewership across networks, which makes commercials worth more, which gives people jobs and increases profits. It means the more written about and televised the sport is, the more likely people are to put their kids in the sport, leading to the need for more coaches and more gyms, and the cycle just goes on and on. Just like a micro-economy, there is a domino effect in participation and dollars.
The idea of exposure, of course, is to allow these first time countries or countries on the rise, the opportunity to be a part of an amazing thing. In this case, however, without earning it, which is the rudimentary problem. The FIG decided that they can have wildcard sports for Olympic qualifying, in order to make sure there is proper world and continent representation. But, this takes these athletes here. I tallows them to represent their country, to get press and an amazing experience. But, after preliminaries, their experience is over, unless they qualify to move on. The best of both worlds. With the TPC rule, it essentially waters down the worth of any bronze medal…ever.
As we are at the Olympics, and not just in the world of gymnastics, other countries in other sports are affected as well. In track and field, there are rules about getting to the Olympics in the first place. But, once you are here, there is no rule about stopping the advancement, no matter how many per country, to the finals. For Brazil, volleyball was their frustration. They had to leave an entire beach team out because of the Olympic rules allowing only two teams to be qualified.
The history of the rule is an interesting one. In the 1970’s there were very dominant teams in the world, specifically Japan in Men’s Gymnastics. In Montreal in 1976, the Olympics were the first time to limit the qualifying per country to two for each individual event and three for the all-around, out of 36 total athletes. The 2004 Olympics were the first Games to see the TPC begin, and the all-around numbers down to 24 total.
Looking at the numbers, it is remarkable the reign that the Women’s team from the Soviet Union had on the sport. I am not angry about it at all, just jealous, envious and in awe of their program and how good it is. To look at a page of medal winners is to see almost solid red flags fill the page. This, to me, signifies actual dominance, since they were allowed to be dominant. From the Olympics in 1952 in Helsinki to the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, The Soviet Union had 18 out of 30 all around medals (10 years, Gold, Silver and Bronze each year). That is 60%! WOW! On Balance beam alone, they had 50% of the medals for the same years.
Since 2004, with the rule change, the United States has accumulated 4/9 podium placements in the women’s all-around women’s competition. At nearly 45%, that is impressive. But, could have easily been 5 with Jordyn in 2012. And, including 2016 to come tomorrow, the total possible would be 12. Assuming we add 2 for Simone and Aly, we get 6/12. Add Gabby and Jordyn, and we get to 8/12. Much more impressive, realistic, and legacy-leaving.