On Tuesday, the U.S. women's gymnastics team claimed Olympic gold, bringing honor to their country and recognition of their shared dominance over the sport. And yet, even when that's all said and done, the competition isn't over — members of the U.S. women's team are still due to compete in some of the individual events coming up this week. But, if you've been following much coverage of the team so far, there might be a question on your mind: does the two-per-country rule apply to individual gymnastics events?
The answer, sad to say if you're a Team USA superfan, is yes. Whether you're talking about the all-around competition, or the separate events (beam, vault, floor routine, and uneven bars), the number of American women who can compete for individual glory is capped at two. That's how it is for every country, even if they might have four of the five best gymnasts in the world on their team.
In the case of Team USA, that's kind of what's happened — the two-per-country rule means some hyper-worthy individual participants unavoidably end up left out. That's what happened to Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics in London, when she lost her sport to Aly Raisman and then-newcomer Gabby Douglas. And, as fate would have it, it's what happened to Douglas this year, when she was barely edged-out for a slot in the individual all-around by Raisman and Simone Biles.
Raisman, for her part, has come out on top of this painful arrangement twice, and she's been outspoken about how unfair she believes it to be. Here's what she's said about the experience of knocking Wieber out in 2012.
It's not fair what happened. I mean, she was fourth in the world and she wasn't allowed to compete. It's something that I always feel bad about, because it's just not fair. ... It's just, it is devastating, because we are best friends, and I do want the best for her, and it's really hard to put into words. It was just very uncomfortable, and it was just like, heartbreaking for me to have to see her go through that, because it's just not fair. ... I think the two-per-country rule is the dumbest thing ever. Who cares if there's five Chinese girls in the bar final? If they're the best five, then they should be able to compete.
Sadly, however, there's no recourse for the time being, and for Douglas, she may never have another chance at an individual all-around. She's currently 20, and would be 24 by the time of the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — well within a person's athletic prime in most sports, but older-than-average for an elite Olympic gymnast. Raisman, at 22, is currently the oldest member of Team USA.
It'll be interesting to see whether two consecutive cycles of controversial and criticism weigh into the rules going forward. But for the time being, a stacked U.S. women's team is inevitably going to make for some broken hearts, and that's a really sad part of an otherwise exciting, often-inspiring event.