Monday, December 3, 2012

The Two Per Country Rule: A Brief Response

The Couch Gymnast published a thoughtful piece about the two-per country rule, which came under scrutiny this summer when defending world champion, Jordyn Wieber, failed to make the AA final despite posting the 4th best qualification score, which was above 60 points.

This analysis seems to sympathize with Wieber--who wouldn't?--and other athletes like her who have the "misfortune" of being on dominant teams where their strongest competition comes from their own teammates. The writer cites other athletes from the past who benefited or were burned by this rule, but doesn't really come to any sort of conclusion or take a stance on the rule, one way or another.

But what this analysis seems to have overlooked is how the rule has remained (the number revised down one) despite some very real changes in how team competitions are conducted. Gone are the days when everyone did every apparatus, which meant that all competitors could, in theory, qualify to the all-around finals. This meant that every member of the Soviet and Romanian squads could've made the all-around final.

Nowadays, because of three up, three count and 5-4-3 rules,there are fewer all-around gymnasts vying for a spot in the final. Teams carry two event specialists that won't be able to contend for that portion of the competition. (And in the case of teams like the U.S. and China this year, there are also single event competitors such He Kexin and McKayla Maroney.) Under these circumstances, even dominant teams like the U.S. wouldn't be able to dominate the podium in the AA final the same way the Soviet Union could've.

This means that the all-around field is far more diluted than it used to be when specialists couldn't be on teams. It saddens me that we dilute this field even further by disqualifying true medal contenders for the sake of this rule.

I'm super happy that gymnasts from Poland get to compete at the Worlds or Olympics and it doesn't matter much to me what sort of allowances enabled them to qualify. I'm glad that they're gaining experience both for themselves and their countries' gymnastics programs. But does that mean that they, in addition to prelims, must also be allowed to compete in the AA medal round too? It might be harsh to say this, but I don't think they should. But it's not about what's fair or unfair to the gymnasts. My view, in part, comes from a selfish place. I just want to watch a better, more competitive all-around final.

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