Opinion: Not allowing warm-ups 'obviously so dangerous' for gymnasts

·4 min read

TOKYO — The International Gymnastics Federation is going to get someone killed.

Gymnasts, coaches – anyone with any common sense, really – are asking once again why the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) prohibits warm-ups before event finals. They’re fine during qualifying. They’re fine for the team competition. And they’re fine for the all-around final.

Yet during event finals, when gymnasts are busting out their biggest and riskiest skills, the FIG is making them go in cold. Quite literally, judging by Russia’s Angelina Melnikova blowing on her hands Sunday night and China’s Lu Yufei and Fan Yilin wearing big, puffy coats.

“That rule is so dumb and it’s obviously so dangerous because you don’t get to go on the event before you get to compete. Which really sucks,” new Olympic all-around champion Suni Lee said after winning a bronze medal on uneven bars Sunday. “That’s just kind of unfair. It sucks for everybody (equally), but I think we deserve it.”

Russia Anastasiia Iliankova, left, and Suni Lee embrace competing on the uneven bars finals Sunday.
Russia Anastasiia Iliankova, left, and Suni Lee embrace competing on the uneven bars finals Sunday.

For those unfamiliar, with the exception of event finals, gymnasts are given time to warm up on each apparatus before they compete. It’s called a “one touch,” and it’s 30 seconds on most events, and 50 seconds on uneven bars and parallel bars. The women get two or three attempts on vault.

There are several reasons for this. First, duh. Athletes need to warm up before competing, whether it’s a quarterback throwing on the sidelines or a reliever tossing a few pitchers on the mound.

Second, at major competitions such as the Olympics and world championships, gymnasts compete on a podium. Equipment feels and reacts differently when it’s on a raised platform than when it’s on flat ground, and gymnasts need time to adjust to that.

Mostly, however, it’s about safety. The skills elite-level gymnasts are doing these days are so difficult that to do them when they haven’t had a chance to warm up and get a feel for the equipment would be asking for someone to get injured. Or worse.

But the FIG decided in the early 2000s that warm-ups aren’t necessary for event finals – despite this being the phase of the competition where gymnasts step up their difficulty in hopes of winning a medal. The gymnasts in the final are introduced and, as soon as that concludes, the first person up has to be ready go.

As the first up on uneven bars, Lee couldn’t even wear her warm-ups during intros because she wouldn’t have had time to take them off.

“Seriously, figure it out and give them a one touch,” Chellsie Memmel, the 2005 world champion and a member of the U.S. team that won silver at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, said on Twitter. “Athlete safety is clearly not your top priority in event finals. It should be.”

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Gymnasts and coaches have been grumbling about the no-touch rule since it was instituted in the early 2000s. But it’s gotten new attention at the Tokyo Olympics because Simone Biles’ withdrawal during the team competition brought the physical risks of the sport into sharper focus.

Asked about the torrent of criticism that followed Sunday’s event finals, which were marked by numerous falls and scary moments that could have been the result of no warm-ups, the FIG said it “takes duly note of this request made by the gymnasts.”

“The athletes' safety is an absolute priority for the FIG and the topic will be brought to the attention of the Executive Committee for consideration,” the FIG said in a statement.

It needs to be more than considered. It needs to be done.

Now.

The “no-touch” warm-ups were part of previous FIG president Bruno Grandi’s reign of terror, yet one more “innovation” that has only served to damage the sport. Ditching the 10.0 scoring system? Ever-shrinking teams? The goofy qualifying system for Tokyo that nobody understood? His ideas, too.

Grandi supposedly said the “no touch” was because it was better for broadcasters, who didn’t want lag time with three and four event finals each day. And yet, the medals ceremonies they’re holding after each final in Tokyo, along with the time needed to set up and take photos after, are fine! Just fine!

“After today I hope that the (FIG) realizes how important the touch warm-up is for the safety and well being of the athletes!” Cecile Landi, who represented France at the 1996 Olympics and now coaches Biles with her husband, Laurent, said on Twitter. “And also can we do the awards at the very end so they don’t wait even longer than they should to compete.”

Athletes sweat and sacrifice for years to be at their best at the Olympics and world championships. It's not too much to ask that the FIG not get in the way of that.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2021 Olympics: Gymnasts at risk with no warms-ups before event finals

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