in defence of 2 / nation

Almost everyone I know is decrying the FIG rule allowing a maximum of 2 gymnasts / nation to qualify to Olympic Finals.

The main argument against the 2 / nation rule I’ve heard is that one of the very best gymnasts in the world, the defending World Champion, is not allowed to contend for the AA title. … This time.

If it was Aly 3rd, I doubt there would be much debate.

If it was Kazuhito Tanaka from Japan in the Men’s competition, there wouldn’t be much discussion. … Actually, Tanaka was eliminated, like Jordyn. … I didn’t hear a word.

He was eventually added, replacing an injured Koji Yamamuro.

The two solutions to this specific problem I hear are:

return the rule to a maximum of 3 / nation (as it was in 2000), or …
allow exceptions to the rule in cases of World Champions

Women’s Gymnastics is a sport where only 4 nations dominate the medals. I want to see gymnasts from other nations have a chance to contend, and even upset those 4 favourites.

The 2 / nation rule helps.

“Sudden Victory” at each level of competition helps.

Smaller team size helps.

The USA chose to have 3 gymnasts do the AA knowing that one would be knocked out. If they wanted those two to be Gabby and Jordyn, they should have kept Aly off Bars in prelims.

Beam Dreams – Two Per Country And Other Such Rules – My Take on the Debate

Of course the argument that the Olympics is all about deciding who’s BEST is specious. If that was the case we’d have 15 Americans in London and perhaps 1 Canadian.

There must be some maximum number of competitors at each level of competition. Two finalists is better than one, I feel. I personally think it looks bad for the sport to have all three from one nation on the podium.

Still not convinced?

Read Thiago Simoes post on how the 2 / nation rule is seen in 2016 Olympic host Brazil:

There has been much debate over the last few days about Jordyn Wieber’s failure to qualify for the All-Around finals. This is all somewhat baffling to me, someone who lives in a country which has achieved respectful results in gymnastics after the two-per-country rule was applied. …

Couch Gymnast – Two-per-country Rule: Another View

Having only 4 nations dominate WAG at the Olympics is bad for the sport in the rest of the world. Just as having only 4 women’s College teams ever having won the Team title makes it more difficult — not less — for every other team in the NCAA to justify their existence.

For the greater good of the sport, I can live with the disappointment of not seeing Jordyn get a shot at winning the Olympic title today.

Good luck to Gabby and Aly.

Published by

coach Rick

Career gymnastics coach from Calgary, Canada.

31 thoughts on “in defence of 2 / nation”

  1. I agree with all of this. I have liked the two per country rule from the start. It was a shame for Jordyn Wieber not to make the final but she wasn’t good enough on the day (neither was Kazuhito Tanaka or Philipp Boy etc).

  2. “Bad for the sport.” Careful. You have to remember that yes, for people who are obsessed with gymnastics, it would be nice to see an extra gymnast from France qualify with mediocre scores to the AA. However, the majority of viewers of olympic gymnastics are not super fans. They care about the top 10 “brand name” gymnasts. When people outside the sport cry foul, then THAT is bad for the sport.

    Rick/Kristina- Consider this. Without looking them up, have you ever heard of the following gymnasts?

    Aurelie Malaussena
    Marta Pihan-Kulesza
    Giulia Steingruber

    Probably not? They all qualified for the AA. They will not get 1 second of TV coverage. And you’re saying Jordyn shouldn’t get the chance to compete when these girls will barely break 50? Look up their scores- 12s and 13s…

    How about these girls?

    Layanet Calero
    Aajge Vanwalleghem
    Katy Lennon
    Kristyna Palesova

    No again? Well, the 2 per country rule allowed these gymnasts to compete in 2004/2008, and knocked out people like Courtney McCool and Mohini B. Shame. Your punishing nations that have strong roots in gymnastics by cutting their talent. How is that fair?

  3. I think rather than a post regarding the INTENT of the rules perhaps we can research for any signs if they have been effective at all. All that is noted in this is “helps” can we be shown proof of the “help” it has provided or any positive effect? Being an Olympic event the competition ought to maintain what the Olympics are about which is to find the best. Under these rules the best are not competing and the spirit of the games are undermined. Not only does it deprive the best from competing but also deprives those whom are competing the opportunity to face the best, the whole reason why any athlete competes at the Olympics is to face the best. These rules greatly diminish the meaning of those medals and diminishes the enthusiasm of any fan or prospective fan if they know they aren’t seeing the best compete. Now someone will wan to say “the spirit of the games is to unite the world” i agree completely and the best way to bring the world together is to allow the best to compete, if you don’t you drive people away. Look back at 92′ what allowing NBA players did for basketball internationally, by allowing the best to compete the sport grew exponentially! As with most sports i believe people want to see the sport competed by it’s very best regardless of nation. Now tell me which is more detrimental 3 athletes from 1 nation in the AA or disenfranchising every current or potential fan from watching when they expect to see the best compete but clearly are not.

    The issue isn’t particular nations “dominating” the sport, the issue is the people unable to afford the sport. Even here in the United States it is unfortunately a very sizable investment for most households to put their child into gymnastics. So how much more difficult is it in many other nations? No rule we can devise will change that reality and sorry to say it but that is the true inescapable issue.

    I don’t want to see any athlete who is clearly among the top 24 to suffer in the future under this rule like Wieber, Grishina or Tanaka have.

    Also you said you can “live with it” which is far from “agree with”. Live with is a term synonymous with putting up with something, when it comes to the integrity of this sport “live with” is not good enough.

  4. Zach, I have heard of all gymnasts you named with the exception of Layanet Calero. Indeed I love to watch Marta Pihan Kulesza, Giulia Steingruber and Kristina Palesova when they compete. Unfortunately Aagje van Walleghem has retired now or I would still enjoy watching her. I am not so familiar with Aurelie Malaussena but I have heard of her.

    One of the reasons I do prefer to watch these competitions live is the chance to see these gymnasts in action. The tv coverage concentrates far too much on just a few gymnasts, which is presumably why you think I would not have heard of eg Pihan Kulesza. Both she and Palesova have eg lovely floor routines which merit a wider public in my opinion.

    Csaccullo, I disagree with everything you wrote! The best are competing. If Jordyn Wieber had been the best during qualification then she would have got one of the two places up for grabs. If USAG had wanted her to have a guaranteed place in the AA final then they would not have allowed 3 gymnasts to compete AA in the prelims. They could still pull one of the others out for her if they wanted.

    You have to look at the situation of gymnastics in countries such as Poland, Switzerland or Belgium to judge whether this rule is helping the greater cause of gymnastics. I can’t help but believe that it matters there a great deal whether their gymnast is in the AA final or not. Funding decisions worldwide are based on placements in eg the Olympics and World Championships. If their gymnasts had no hope of qualifying then a lot of the money currently going into gymnastics would find its way into sports which promise more visible success.
    Poland is proud of the achievements of Pihan Kulesza and her success will be inspiring others to follow in her footsteps.
    I don’t believe that Jordyn Wieber’s failure to make the AA final will discourage anyone from entering the sport or reduce funding in any way.
    If people choose not to watch the final because the third best American can’t compete then that is their loss.

  5. I think the thing is, call a spade a spade. If the Olympics is structured with celebrating diversity and inclusion as higher priorities than celebrating technical excellence, then bill it that way. Just be honest. Because right now the Olympics bill themselves as the highest and most prestigious competition within the sport. Right now there is this misconception that the rankings determined in the Olympics represent the top ranked athletes.

    So, then, the Olympics becomes a lovely inclusion festival, and how wonderful it is. Honestly, as long as it’s billed as what it is, I have no problem with it. I had tears in my eyes just watching the athletes walk in to the parade in the opening ceremonies. The Olympics are a beautiful thing. So just don’t deceive fans that this represents anything more than it is.

    Then, let’s have another, different, annual meet, that gets as much coverage as the Olympics, that is truly about the top – let’s say 30 – (though in my mind, as someone who really loves gymnastics, I’d love to see 50!) qualifiying scores. I think both fans and athletes would be very interested in knowing the real, true, unmanipulated rankings of our sports’ top athletes. And really, it should happen once a year, as we all know that certain ill-timed excellence isn’t rewarded just based on when the games happen to fall relative to the athletes birthdays. Why shouldn’t there be honest, annual rankings? A win in such a meet with have much more purity, and be much more respect-worthy in the eyes of “insiders”.

  6. When it comes to events like this you can choose one of two paths, more competitive or more inclusive. They have chosen to be more inclusive. That’s just the way it is.

    Additionally, EVERY Olympic sport limits countries to a certain number of berths. The way gymnasts qualify just delays the process. Most countries have made these hard decisions back in their Olympic Trials, but because gymnasts qualify as a team, they are sorted on the world stage. This makes it even more obvious that medal-worthy athletes sometimes aren’t allowed to participate. I’m willing to bet that there are a few Chinese divers who are medal-quality sitting at home right now. But nobody’s raised a ruckus because we didn’t see it. It’s the way it’s always been, and things have been ok thus far. And it has allowed non powerhouse countries to develop their teams.

    A gymnast who participates in an Olympic final is someone to look up to and inspires other gymnasts in their home country. If the smaller countries are shut out, I’d bet the quality of their gymnastics would suffer and make it even more difficult for them to make finals in the future.

  7. What about the best gymnasts in the world getting the shot to compete for gold? Not only all around, but ef also. I’m having a hard time understanding ur issue w 3 gymnasts from the same nation atop the podium. If they’re among the best in the world then what’s the problem? Id rather see 5 strong us, rom, russ, chi, or any nations reps than a gymnast from antarctica for ‘diversty’ sake. Quals is 1 thing, but these girls work too hard to be left on the sidelines at major competitons for the sake of the antarctican gymnast to compete AA and come in 24th.

  8. Nicely said Rick. Would the US program have grown to the dominance it has right now if it wasn’t for this rule? Or would the program have been cut back?

  9. The big debate about all this is because the World AA Champion is missing out on defending her World title at the Olympics because of a darn rule. If Aliya and Anastasia Grishina had knocked out Victoria Komova (2nd at Worlds and ALMOST Champ) there’d be a debate there, too. If Aly had won Worlds in 2011 and Jordyn had snuck in qualifying here, then there’d be an uproar for Aly. It’s not Jordyn vs. Aly. It’s just a bummer the World Champion won’t be contending for the AA title at the Olympics. That’s why there’s all this debate. Jordyn is one of the best, obviously, and it stinks she won’t get to continue to prove that at these Games because of a dumb rule.

  10. Since Olympic AA and finals are supposed to be about having the “best” athletes in the world competing, rather than having the best fortunate ones, I have a problem seeing a high ranked athlete replaced by 25th or lower in case of AA or 9th or lower in case of EF. The Olympics is billed as the showcase of the world’s best, and that’s what it should be. It should also mean that world champions on every event should automatically be included on that event (or AA). If they fail to qualify on their own then so be it. Exclusion by stupid rules is not OK

  11. I understand the reasons behind the rules, but it does not mean that is effective, because the reality is that you may get the inclusion of the other countries. it still does not mean that they will be competitive. the last results since the rule was implemented is the same. the top 4 and the top 6 dominate the all around and the event finals. the key is developing the talent in other countries and finding the funds to have them have a chance to compete.
    think about it. of all the 24 girls today the top 4 countries contain the only ones that have truly a chance to win unless they implode. by leaving Weiber, Jinnan, Grishnia out. all you have done is make it easier for Komova, Mustafina, Larissa, Gabby, Aly, and the two Chinese girls. no one else can truly score 58 or more points.
    by going back to the top 36 and allowing 3 per country, you gain more inclusion. if the top 4 get all of their athletes in is 12 girls, you still have 24 other girls who are able to qualify and compete and have the so call inclusion even if they cannot truly win.

  12. How about top ten qualify for AA finals regardless of nation. Anyone qualifying in 11-24 is subject to the two per country rule. Real contenders still get a shot if they can prove their worth in qualifications by placing top 10.

    1. Any rule that qualified 3 Americans, and only 2 Russians — for example — wouldn’t fly.

      Not sure how you’d do the logistics of that.

      BETTER would be to say that the top 10? Or 6? Or 3 AA from Worlds 2011 automatically qualify unless replaced by the nation.

  13. You have to decide what the point of the competition is. Finding the best gymnast or showcasing gymnasts from each country? Then set the rules appropriately.

    If you only allow two gymnast from a country rich in talent, you’re never going to find the best. The best isn’t someone as they are at any given moment but as they have always been. The two gymnasts per is a showcase.

    Otherwise yes it will be dominanted by a handful of countries who are the best because they have the talent, training and facilities. If you want to see more nations at prstigious events, encourage talent from within the nation not by rigging the rules in the competition and punishing talented gymnasts for their nationality. Jordyn should move to jamaica and compete for them. Then she’d be able to get in, no problem.

  14. Including someone in AA finals at the Olympics based on their performance from 6-8 months before would be really stupid, even worse than 2 per country. Fitness level, injury, or just decrease in ability leave you with an athlete who is in the final based on reputation and not merit.

    I don’t see a problem with a swept podium, and truthfully Rick if you feel that’s “bad for the sport”, then how does two athletes from the same nation on the podium benefit the sport? So let’s be really inclusive at the Olympics to maximize exposure and go with just one per nation. Let’s pin all our hopes on one athlete, who can only occupy one tier of the podium. Then we’ll have a multi-national podium to celebrate rather than great gymnasts to celebrate.

    I’m not buying that this format is growing the sport or is good for the sport.

    1. I am a bit undecided between maximum two and one.

      Not sure why I prefer two. One would HELP nations not currently in the top 4 even more.

      … Somehow seeing the podium today USA, RUS, RUS looks OK.

  15. Here is the “intent” of the Olympic Games:
    (Taken directly from a document entitled, “The Modern Olympic Games,” published by The Olympic Museum):

    “The Games are a well-known event, but are also part of a broader framework which is that
    of the Olympic Movement.
    The purpose of the Olympic Movement is to:
    – link sport with culture and education;
    – promote the practice of sport and the joy found in effort;
    – help to build a better world through sport practised in a spirit of peace, excellence,
    friendship and respect.”

    Keeping this in mind, there is nothing about selecting the absolute best athlete in the world. Although that is what the very first Olympics was actually about.

    IMHO, it should be the BEST of the best, no max rules. Otherwise, it isn’t the ultimate test of an athlete. Look at shooting – we only were able to send 1 athlete – Kim Rhode. It’s not a sport that every country has an athlete, but she is the best in the world amongst those that can compete. Why should gymnastics be any different?

  16. I don’t think the world champion not getting a chance to defend her title is the big deal for me, nor do I think the world champion should get an automatic exception. What if the world champion had a poor qualification competition? However, in this case Wieber did get over 60 in quals. That is considered a really high AA score in gymnastics. Only 4 gymnasts have broken 60 in the entire Olympics so far.

    The problem is the Olympics is being treated as both an inclusive competition and as the competition for the best in the world. As someone pointed out that is a combination that doesn’t work really well. If we are going to continue to treat it as both, I’ve heard a few good ideas. If we were to have the top 3 in every country in the finals, only two gymnasts would have been knocked out. That is not a huge impact to the inclusiveness of the all around. I think the other idea I heard, which might be an even better compromise, was to qualify the top 10, and then no more than 2/country. If teams continue to be only 5 gymnasts, countries will really only have 3 AAs. So only a max of 3 teams would be able to qualify three. (Heck, if they want to balance it out, add one more girl to each rotation making it 7. That won’t lengthen it too much and adding the 3 extra girls doesn’t push anyone out.)

    I don’t think the argument that the Olympics is a competition between the best in the world truly lacks merit. The fact is people both fans and general public make a big deal on the Olympic AA. If it really is just a inclusive competition, then we shouldn’t be putting extra emphasis on the Olympic gold medalist.

    I do agree that a competition with 15 girls from one country would be poor for the sport, but I also think that would be taking it to the extreme. Since only 3 can actually get a medal, I think having potentially the top 3 from a couple of countries compete, would kind of cover the “Best” in the world part. Right now the various teams are strong enough, at least in women’s gymnastics, that the girls that are number 4 or 5 in a country aren’t really going to beat the top 1 or 2 from another top country.

    I think there is an opening here for a reasonable compromise between inclusiveness and “best” in the world.

  17. To determine the best athlete in the world in a given sport at a specific point in time do you not need to have a competition amongst the best athletes in the world?

    A serious contender did not compete today. While I agree you cannot have 10 (or whatever the number may be) athletes from a single country competing, the rule in place created an environment that was not reflective of the best gymnastics in the world. In as much as I want what is best for the sport it is irrelevant. The olympics (despite what they say) is about putting the best group of athletes in the world together to determine the winner on that given day – why else we would recognize it as such. This did not happen.

    Would having 3 Americans or Russians or Chinese on the podium be bad for the sport? Maybe.. but it is impossible to predict. It may make us question what they’re doing that we aren’t and challenge us to reevaluate our system. Having the world champion absent changed the dynamic of this competition. It would be like losing your goalie in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup – it matters!
    Or something like that..

  18. I agree with the compromise ideas- maybe do the top 5 or 10 automatically qualify. As far as what you said about 15 Americans and 1 Canadian- I think it’s cool to limit the teams to 5-7 gymnasts but once you’re there at the competition at the freakin’ Olympics, you deserve an equal chance. I’m sure Mustafina is glad she got the bronze but she finished behind Jordyn in prelims, who was sitting in the stands. She shouldn’t be THAT proud of her medal, if you ask me.

  19. Similar mixed selection idea I’ve heard for AAF …
    Top 2 from the top top 8 teams = 16 gymnasts;
    remaining 8 based on AA qualifying scores.
    Just a thought.

  20. I think 2/nation is good for the Olympics, people argue that it’s about showing the best in the world, emphasis on world. With the 2/nation rule we see the best from everywhere and not just from the powerhouse countries. If we cut out limits we would see a majorily American/Chinese/Russian/Romanian final which isnt what the olympics are about. In my opinion 2/nation should stay the case for the Olympics, but consider changing Worlds to 3/nation

  21. Brazil’s WAG success has got nothing to do with the AA 2 per country rule. I don’t know about MAG, but it’s probably the same there. The gymnasts who challenge for medals aren’t the ones who got into finals in 30th place.

    Allisen, you make no sense. “Showing the best in the world” you say, yet the rules don’t allow that. IMO, it’s throwing the lower-placed gymnasts the pity card.

    The Olympics are about diversity, yes, and that’s what prelims are for. Not finals.

  22. Viola makes a very good point. Diversity is satisfied with the preliminary events which qualify teams and individuals for the finals. Finals should be for the best qualified athletes. Gymnastics is remarkable in that an individual’s scores can change significantly from competition to competition. This means that it is rare for one athlete to consistently be the best, especially now that the sport is deep with high caliber competitors. The two competitor limit per country is unfortunate in that it eliminates some of the top athletes from the competition. For the sport to be well recognized in the competitor’s country they usually must win a medal, the two competitor limit does not seem to make a difference with that. Usually, it is the same four countries’ athletes who are standing on the podium. In that respect the two country rule is not having any benefit. It does prevent one country from winning all the medals. And for me this is the most irksome thing, that the countries are given more note than the individual athletes. I would be happy to see countries eliminated entirely from world competitions when individuals are competing. Due to gymnastics duel team/individual format this seems problematic.

  23. Top 36 and NO limits on gymnasts (if they qualify 4 then all 4 go through) would mean that all those who made the final this week would still advance.

  24. I’ve been thinking through this again as I have watched some Olympic fluff stories in other sports. I haven’t really changed my mind about wanting the best in the AA but I did realize how much I like an underdog story.

    There is a Saudi woman in Judo, a blue-belt competing against black-belts, who brought tears to my eyes. She is a ground-breaker, hopes to come back, hopes to inspire other women in her nation to do so much more.

    There is a rower from Niger, a gardener by trade who just began rowing. He hopes to really train for Rio in order to come back to compete even stronger and relishes the gift he was given.

    I love these stories. So throw me a gymnastics bone. TELL me about these gymnasts who are here representing a developing nation. Don’t ignore them. Celebrate them, and draw real attention to their efforts. Brigid’s “top 24” article did some of that, but how about we all try to get the word out, all over the internet, about our developing nation gymnasts?

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