This article is part our Tokyo Olympics series.
Jade Carey, an American gymnast, jumped toward the vault during Sunday's apparatus final. Something was wrong. As she was about to start her roundoff onto her springboard, she did a little more shuffle or stutter. We saw the consequences of this tiny mistake in the post-flight phase. Instead of landing half-onto the table and doing one-and-ahalf twists, Carey went straight backwards and did a simple back turn off. Carey basically did a timer, a non-twisting competition vault. This is the type of move that a gymnast would perform during a warmup to get used to the apparatus.
Except that there is no one-touch warmup during the apparatus finals of Olympic and world competition. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) eliminated it in 2001. One-touch warmups are more or less what they sound like. It takes the athletes about 30 seconds, depending on the event, to practice a few skills and test the equipment before they compete. This is a tradition in elite competition and still happens in some rounds. In team finals and individual all-around finals, there is one-touch. It is prohibited in apparatus finals. In the team finals, the one-touch was eliminated initially. The results were predictable. There were a lot of falls at the 2003 world championships. China was disqualified for their athlete flipping onto the podium. This resulted in the team losing the bronze medal. The one-touch was reinstated for the team event at the next Olympic cycle.
The apparatus final will see the gymnast warm up in a back-gym, then get ready to go to the arena. It all depends on where they are placed in the competition order. A gymnast may be injured, delayed by the judging or lose their opportunity to compete. As McKayla Maroney, 2012 Olympic vault silver medalist, pointed out in her Instagram stories, athletes could wait up to an hour to have their chance to compete. Maroney described how she struggled to keep warm in the arena's overly-air-conditioned arena. She ran up and down the sides and massaged her legs while the cameras captured every movement. You may have noticed Chinese gymnasts sporting full-length coats while standing on the sidelines.
Carey's failed vault was a disaster for her score. Carey ended up performing a vault with a lower difficulty score than she had originally intended. She also received a neutral deduction for having done two vaults with the exact same entry. This is prohibited in the apparatus final. Her second vault, which she was able to pull off successfully, was a Yurchenko-style approach, with only two-and-a half twists off. It was one of the most difficult competition vaults. Carey, who is a two-time vault world silver medalist and was expected to win the title, placed last. She won the floor exercise gold medal Monday and returned to compete on vault. MyKayla, who was replaced by Biles in the final took the silver, while Olympic all-around medalist Rebeca andrade took the gold.
Sunisa Lee, the all-around gold medalist in vault, missed nearly every connection in her complex uneven bar routine. This was something she hadn't done in any of her Olympic bar routines. Because almost every other gymnast had made errors, she won the bronze.
Nearly immediately after Carey's vault was ruined, ex-gymnasts took to Twitter to discuss the lack of one touch and the dangers it might pose. Chellsie Memmel was the 2005 world champion in all-around and a member the U.S. Olympic gold-medal winning team. She tweeted: Seriously, they need to figure it out. Give them a one touch. Evidently, athlete safety is not your main priority at event finals. The one-touch should be restored for apparatus finals. Laurie Hernandez, 2016 gold medalist, asked for it to be. Cecile Canqueteau Landi, coach of Biles, Jordan Chiles, and 1996 Olympian for France for France, called for the return of one-touch.
The calls didn't come only from ex-athletes on social media. Both the coaches and gymnasts shared their feelings about the lack of one touch time. Lee said that he thinks the rule is stupid. It was so dangerous. Jess Graba was her coach. It is possible to get hurt doing it. Yeo Seo-jeong from South Korea, who won vault bronze 25 years ago after her father's Atlanta vault silver win, also voted for a one touch. It would have helped us to get warm, and we wouldn't have been as anxious. Skinner performed two of her best vaults to earn silver. Lisa Spini, Skinner's coach, tweeted support for the one-touch. This level of agreement is remarkable.
Biles has not yet made a statement on the one-touch. However, when I interviewed her about the Yurchenko double-pike she was training, and asked if she thought we might see it at Games, she stated that she felt it would be better to have it in the all around final because she gets that warmup. That is exactly when you'd like to see that vault.
If all of these gymnasts (past and present) hate this rule, then why is it still in place? The simple answer is TV broadcasts. FIG refused to reinstate the one-touch for the apparatus final when USA Gymnastics applied in 2010. FIG stated that media demands were sufficient for rejection. Television broadcasters are not happy with podium warm-ups. They want a rhythm, a show that is entertaining, highlights, and short sequences. Podium warm-ups will only cause entertainment quality to suffer and encourage networks to use other disciplines to provide a better programme.
FIG prioritized the TV broadcasters' concerns over those of their athletes, even though the athletes have a strong argument they want to avoid injury. The networks have to decide what to do with the downtime. They could show warmups and give the viewers more gymnastics. They could also use warmups to educate viewers. They could go to commercial. This is how they make their money. They could also have Nastia Liukin speak about her outfits if this seems too boring.
It is rare that Olympic gymnastics competitions can be viewed live on TV networks. This year's Tokyo broadcast was heavily edited. Yeo, bronze medalist in vault, was even removed from NBC's primetime program. The vault with her eponymous front double twist handspring was the best in the final. This is difficult to reconcile with the argument that warmups are boring. Even if you take the concerns about entertainment products seriously, how can a product be good if everyone is falling?
This is quite fitting, as this issue was raised during the pandemic Games. Television profits are what brought the Tokyo Olympics to life. They were held by the International Olympic Committee despite protests from the majority of Japanese citizens. Due to legitimate contagion fears, many of the joys that make the Games so enjoyable for athletes have been removed. There is no audience, no family, friends or relatives in the stands, and no chance to meet athletes from other sports around the globe. There is little benefit for the local community from the Games through tourism or other forms of spending. This Olympics is strictly a TV event.
Carey's mistakes or any other mistake should not be the reason for one-touch warmups being reinstated. All competition phases have their mistakes and injuries, regardless of which warmups are available. Particularly in the event finals, gymnasts feel tired from a week of competition. This fatigue can lead to more errors, which could be made worse by the absence of one-touch warmups. Maroney stated that by the time you reach event finals you have absolutely nothing left to offer. It is difficult to prove that Tokyo's falls and other errors are due to a lack of one-touch warmup. It shouldn't matter.
It is the moral argument that wins, and not the technical, that must prevail. It's all about what athletes need. It's the athletes who put their bodies on the line for competition. They can say that they just need a little extra boost in confidence, to avoid injury, or simply because it is necessary to restore their sport. The gymnastic institutions have been alleged to be working towards becoming more athlete-centered. This is what the athletes have said clearly and unanimously.