Who Loses with the Two Person Rule?

Simone Biles and Gabby Douglas led the US Women’s Gymnastics team to a resounding lead in qualifying for the team finals of the World Gymnastics championships this past weekend. With leadership and performances like theirs, it’s easy to see why the US women are so dominant in the sport.

With only two team members per country allowed to compete ┬áin the finals of each event, fourth place finisher Aly Raisman will not be competing, even though she gave a stellar performance. Questions have again been raised about the rule, with many wondering if it’s unfair to obviously qualified and often superior athletes.

Jordy Wieber, 2011 all-around world champion tweeted this weekend her sympathy for Raisman: “Once again, the 2 per country rule keeps one of the best gymnasts in the world out of AA finals.” Gymnastics is sort of the odd duck in the sports world in enforcing the 2 per country rule. Many other sports limit the number of initial entries in a competition, but doesn’t limit the number that can advance to the final round. Sure it’s an attempt at seeking diversity in the events, but it’s just as true that the rule penalizes young athletes who happen to hail from countries dominant in the sport. A similar and equally debatable measure was taken in reducing the size of the 2020 Olympic women’s teams to four from five in an effort to ensure more countries participate.

Arguments on both sides bear consideration. Diversity in participation is certainly worth seeking, but rules to that effect must evolve as participation evolves. If gymnastics, both men’s and women’s, has shown us anything, it’s that having a gymnastics powerhouse, whether Japan, Russia, the United States, or any other top contender du jour, gives athletes individually and as a team something to shoot for. Artificially limiting competition seems risky, and will have a negative impact on the sport if it doesn’t respect every single athlete who aspires to a shot at the finals.