Making US gymnastics team tough, but chaos could ensue

FORT WORTH, Texas – Making the U.S. team for the Tokyo Olympics is already going to be tough enough. It doesn’t need to be made more difficult.

Yet that’s a potential scenario because of absurdity by the International Gymnastics Federation, timidity by USA Gymnastics and, yes, self-centeredness by Jade Carey and her father Brian, who is also her coach.

As it stands now, the United States will be able to take six women to Tokyo: a four-person team; Carey; and another “plus-one” athlete that is likely to go to an event specialist. But Carey’s spot, which hasn’t been officially awarded but is mathematically clinched by her success at the individual event World Cup series, is nominative, meaning it belongs to her and her alone.

If Carey gives it up to compete as part of the four-person U.S. team, that takes an opportunity away from another American. Instead of five spots being available, there will be only four, and one of her teammates will see her Olympic dream evaporate.

“Everybody knows that. She knows it. We know that,” national team coordinator Tom Forster said after the national championships concluded Sunday night. “But we live in world of athlete-centeredness, and the athletes have the choice. So it will be up to her if she’s in that position.”

Jade Carey competes in the floor exercise during the U.S. Gymnastics Championships on June 4, 2021, in Fort Worth, Texas.

USA TODAY Sports asked to speak with Carey and/or her father at the U.S. Classic two weeks ago, as well as after each night of competition at nationals, but USA Gymnastics did not make them available. It’s unclear if that was the Careys’ decision or the federation’s.

At the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media summit in April, however, Carey said she was planning on competing for a spot on the U.S. team.

“We’ll just see how it goes there,” she said, “and ultimately it’s up to the selection committee to decide.”

That’s not how this was supposed to work. And unlikely as it might be to occur – only the top two at Olympic trials are guaranteed spots, and Carey was sixth at nationals – it’s shameful there’s even a chance a woman who has spent years with the Olympics as her goal could be shut out in a numbers game because no one had the foresight, or fortitude, to prevent it.

The blame starts with the former International Gymnastics Federation president, who had an inexplicable obsession with shrinking Olympic team sizes, theoretically to provide more opportunities to specialists and gymnasts from smaller countries. Seven-person teams became six-person teams in Sydney, which then became five-person teams in Beijing and, now for Tokyo, four-person squads.

The FIG said countries could earn up to two of these “plus-one” spots for Tokyo – begging the question of the point of all of this – and devised a convoluted process to allocate them. That included awarding spots to the winners in the individual event World Cup series, where Carey holds the top spot on both vault and floor exercise.

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