Does Every Gymnast Compete In The All-Around Team Events? The Olympic Athletes Each Have A Specialty

The women's gymnastics team all-around finals at the Rio Olympics go down Tuesday, and the esoteric rules of gymnastics are once again the subject of intense curiosity. Most people aren't particularly familiar with the structure of a gymnastics meet, but since it's one of the most exciting and dynamic sports to watch at the Olympics, you've got to catch up quickly if you want to know what's going on. The team finals have an interesting organization, because not all five gymnasts compete on every apparatus, meaning a lot of strategy goes into making the choices of who will compete where.

The teams field three athletes in four rotations on the four apparatuses, leaving two athletes on the bench for each apparatus. Here's Team USA's lineup:

  • Vault: Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles
  • Uneven bars: Biles, Gabby Douglas, and Madison Kocian
  • Balance beam: Raisman, Hernandez, and Biles
  • Floor exercise: Hernandez, Raisman, and Biles

The setup allows the national teams to pick specialists for the apparatuses to increase medal chances, rather than having to find five amazing all-around gymnasts. Kocian, the reigning world co-champion on uneven bars, was specifically chosen for her expertise in that element. Raisman and Biles, the two strongest all-around gymnasts for Team USA, are weakest on bars, so the coaches chose to sit them out of that event rather than risk an injury or a less-than-great score.

Despite being the defending Olympic all-around champ, Douglas will be sitting out the majority of the events in the team final. Douglas has always had a special affinity for the uneven bars, earning her the nickname "The Flying Squirrel," so it makes sense that it's where she'll do the most good for the team. Her other chance to compete in this event would have likely been beam, but she and Raisman tied scores on the apparatus in the qualifying round, so the coaches probably had to make a tough choice between the two world-class athletes.

Although not every athlete competes on every apparatus, each member of the team is vital throughout the event. These athletes live, train, and breathe together, and they're each others' strongest support system. Even though Team USA is heavily favored to win the team finals, gymnastics is a mental game, and athletes need their teams to stay in the right mental space for competition. You win and lose as one team, so the only way you can really win is with everyone together.