Congratulations are in order for Gabby Douglas, the U.S. gymnast who won the Olympics women’s gymnastics all-around gold medal today, marking the third straight all-around gold medal for the United States in this event.
However, folks just can’t seem to stop talking about Jordyn Wieber, the defending world champion in the women’s gymnastics all-around and fellow U.S. gymnast who was left out of the all-around finals event (consisting of 24 gymnasts) despite finishing in fourth place in the Olympic qualifying event just days before.
Why was she left out? Despite finishing in fourth place in the qualifiers, she finished third on her team, behind Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman. Unfortunately, the Olympics have instituted a new rule that only allows a country to have two representatives in the all-around final so Wieber couldn’t participate.
And obviously this was devastating.
The objective of the Olympics is to crown the best athletes in the world, and thusly the objective of the women’s gymnastics all-around competition is to celebrate the best all-around gymnast.
However, the purpose of the two-per-country rule is to give an opportunity to under-represented countries a chance for their athletes to shine and prevent powerhouse nations (like, in this case, the United States, China, and Russia) from absorbing all of those top spots in the final.
Setting national pride and bias aside, this is an example of a “dumb, stupid rule” that is put in place to give other countries a chance at winning a medal that otherwise might be shut out if the quota of qualifying gymnasts only come from a handful of nations. While very generous to those otherwise under-represented countries, it violates the very premise that the Olympics are about getting the best together for competition.
Okay, so in this case, did the ends justify the means?
Well, in a word, no. The top four scores in the all-around final were from U.S., Russia (silver medal), Russia again (bronze medal), and the U.S. again (Aly Raisman). If a gymnast from a smaller country with an overall weaker team was good enough to qualify for the all-around final and truly be in the running for a medal, she wouldn’t have needed the rule in the first place. It’s true that anything can happen in sports, but it’s hard to justify penalizing a gymnast because she comes from a country with a strong gymnastics program. If a country’s best gymnast isn’t better than the top five Russian gymnasts or top five Chinese gymnasts, then how could she be considered the best in the world? Wouldn’t an open competition just further reinforce this talent gap?
This is just the latest example of a dumb, stupid rule put in place by organizations that somehow modify the entire premise or objective of the organization’s existence. Identifying the best of the best should not be contingent upon a technicality. It isn’t a sure thing, but Jordyn Wieber probably would have been a good bet to win a medal. She is, after all, the defending world champion.
Nearly every organization has these rules that benefit very few while standing as an impediment to others. Dumb, stupid rules can disrupt a company’s culture. Fast Company has a great article on these rules, including the infamous “the customer is always right” rule.
This is not meant to take anything away from Gabby Douglas. She earned her gold medal. Unfortunately, the all-around final will long be remembered because of the one that was left out.