Women’s qualification at the World Gymnastics Championships kicks off Tuesday in Montreal, and as is typically the case at Worlds following an Olympic Games, this event will likely be a kind of gymnastics twilight zone. Top talent often opts to skip a year or two of competition after the Games. And while veterans are resting up and taking advantage of the opportunities resulting from their Olympic success, their younger successors may not be old enough to compete at the senior level just yet.
But there is fun in the uncertainty left in this vacuum. For the first time since Simone Biles’ senior debut, there is a real question as to who will walk away with not only the golds, but most of the other medals in Montreal.
To give countries some rebuilding time, the format for Worlds in the year after the Olympics is a little different. There is no team competition, and each country sends only four gymnasts to compete in the individual all-around and event finals.
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) has also decided to change the team size for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Each nation will have only four members competing in the team event rather than five. However, Tokyo qualification will involve a new option for individuals to qualify as specialists, so a country could end up sending up to six gymnasts. The smaller team size will continue to favor the Americans, who produce a high level of all-around talent.
Along with the big picture changes to gymnastics, the sport’s top program is in the midst of a big transition. Martha Karolyi stepped down last year after a 16-year tenure as U.S. national team coordinator. She leaves in her wake a historic run of consecutive team and all-around World and Olympic wins for the American women and revelations about the rotten core at the center of all that success.
Stepping into her shoes is veteran Olympic coach Valeri Liukin, who is also the father of 2008 Olympic all-around champion Nastia Liukin….