In gyms and schools across the country, young girls and boys are practicing their flips and vaults in the hopes of becoming the next Olympic star. It's a competitive field; only five gymnasts are chosen for the U.S. Olympic team, as well as two or three alternates. To make the Olympic team, gymnasts need to meet the eligibility requirements of both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and USA Gymnastics.
Playing by the Rules
All Olympic hopefuls have to comply with the IOC's Olympic Charter. For example, gymnasts can't compete as part of a financial arrangement or sell their image on ads without IOC approval. They're also required to respect the spirit of fair play and comply with anti-doping rules. According to IOC rules, gymnasts have to be nationals of their country, but athletes with connections to more than one country can pick which one to compete for. The IOC Executive Board has the power to grant or deny a gymnast's wish to compete for a country other than his own.
A gymnast must be 16 by December 31 of the Olympic year, though some people think that rule hasn't always been observed. In 2008, questions were raised about how young the Chinese women looked. However, the team provided the required documentation to prove their ages. In the 2000 Olympics, the Chinese women's team won the bronze but had their medals revoked in 2010 when it was discovered a gymnast had falsified her age.
For women, the all-around champion at the two-day trials automatically gets a place on the Olympic team. The first and second place finishers in the men's all-around go as long as they also produce one of the three highest scores in at least three of the six events. To get to the trials, a gymnast must compete at a national, elite level through the USA Gymnastics program. Gymnasts who miss the Trials due to an illness or injury can petition the selection committee for consideration.
Gymnasts who compete at the trials or submit a petition can still make the team if they're picked by the selection committee from USA Gymnastics. Four women and two men will be announced at the competition itself, and three more men get the nod the next day. The committee also names the alternates when the rest of the team is chosen.