COVID-19 Impacts the Qualification of U.S. Olympic Teams

Photo Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Photo Courtesy of NBCUniversal

Isabelle Yee, Sports Editor

At the very beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one was really sure of the extensive impact that it would have. COVID-19 rapidly spread across Asia and began to impact Europe in late February.  Despite, the many confirmed cases of COVID-19 in late February, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) proceed to start the Olympic Torch Relay on March 12 in Olympia, Greece. Twelve days later, the IOC met with the Prime Minister of Japan, Abe Shinzo, and concluded that the Games of the XXXII Olympiad in Tokyo must be pushed back to 2021. This news was a shock to many as only five previous Olympic Games (Summer 1916, and Winter and Summer in 1940 and 1944) were canceled due to World War I or World War II. 

The biggest question for many athletes is about the qualification of the Games. The IOC stated qualification for the 2021 Games will remain in the hands of the National Olympic Committees. In terms of the United States, there are two categories of athletes. Category 1 are athletes who earned Olympic Spots by name through International Federation selections procedures while Category 2 are athletes named to the U.S Olympic team by their national governing body and confirmed by the USOPC. For the U.S,  it means that the 76 athletes who qualified for the U.S. Olympic team prior to postponement will remain. 

Even though the ruling may seem clear, it is not. Both Category 1 and Category 2 athletes may be still impacted the most from the postponement of the games depending on their governing bodies. For example, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) placed a rule in 2000 stating that a female must turn 16 or older in that year in order to compete in the Games. Many in the gymnastics community wondered if the FIG will keep the age requirement under the 2020 or 2021 terms. Last week, FIG did not explicitly say but implied that they will proceed with the 2000 ruling under 2021 terms. In the makeup of the 2021 U.S. Olympic Gymnastics team, this means it will be much more difficult for older gymnasts to make the team. 

The FIG ruling resulted in many mixed feelings. Younger gymnasts like Konnor McClain, who is the U.S.’s top 15-year-old gymnast, is excited that she could possibly be on the 2021 Olympic Team rather than the 2024 team. Her dreams of becoming an Olympian is just a short year away rather than four. On the other hand, Cecile Landi, who coaches Simone Biles strongly disagreed with the ruling. Landi took to Twitter and tweeted, “I have NOTHING against the 2005 generation but I don’t agree with this decision”. Former Olympian and now NBC Olympics analyst, Nastia Liukin, expressed a neutral position over the ruling. Liukin said that she’s glad that she is not making the decision because she “doesn’t know if there is a right decision”. 

Gymnastics was not the only sport to clarify age qualification last week. Men’s soccer announced that they would remain with the maximum age cutoff of January 1, 1997, and only three players on the team may be older. 

Luckily, for teams such as Swimming and Track, there is no age requirement to worry about. Both teams require a time standard for the U.S. Olympic trials and athletes will make the Olympic team based on their Olympic Trials performance.