Olympic qualification through the individual apparatus world cup events is a game of threes: if you’re a gymnast aiming for one of the four women’s and six men’s spots up for grabs to Tokyo 2020, your best three performances count toward your ultimate world cup rank.
The surest way to win the Olympic spot? Win your event at least three times over the eight-stop world cup series. That way, you achieve a number of ranking points that can only be tied, not beaten.
On Saturday, world pommel horse bronze medalist Lee Chih-Kai did just that. With victories on horse from the Cottbus, Melbourne and Doha World Cups, Lee has achieved the “perfect 90” — 90 world cup ranking points at 30 per victory. Since only a gymnast’s best three performances are taken into account, Lee simply can’t do any better.
Has Lee sealed his Olympic spot? No. Not yet.
The question follows: what happens if one gymnast wins pommel horse -- or uneven bars, or floor, or beam, or anything -- at three world cups, and another gymnast wins the same event three times at three other world cup events? Who gets the spot? The International Gymnastics Federation has a tiebreaker in place, which is as follows:
The U.S.’s Jade Carey, for the moment at least, is in a slightly different boat. She has two victories on vault and one second place finish. Her second place came behind Brazil’s Rebeca Andrade, who is highly likely to help Brazil qualify a full team to Tokyo at this fall’s World Championships, thus disqualifying her from earning an individual spot through the world cup series. The FIG has confirmed that points will be redistributed in such a way following the 2019 World Championships that if a gymnast becomes ineligible to win the world cup series, her points are deleted and everyone behind her moves up.
After that disqualification, the points will be redistributed among the eligible competitors -- and Carey will have achieved ninety. After that, the only way she wouldn’t have the spot is if someone else, say a Maria Paseka, also racks up three wins and her total score is higher than the sum of Carey’s scores, she’ll get the spot, but only then.
So Carey can sleep easier for now. Lee too has to hope that the three scores he’s laid down are enough — while Carey has Paseka hot on her heels, Lee may feel pressure from Japan’s Kohei Kameyama, the 2013 World champion on pommel horse, who won in Baku two weeks ago, and could potentially win more. The game is not yet up, and won’t be until next year.