At the beginning of the year women’s artistic gymnastics (WAG) was packed with returning stars. At the start of the 2019 there were nine active gymnasts who each had an All-Around (AA) medal. But one by one, they all started to drop out of contention for inclusion at the 2019 World Championships. In jest, the following string of events can be described as a curse.
Larisa Iordache: The only gymnast on this list who technically didn’t make it to a major competition in 2019, Iordache was working on her comeback. However she proved unable to recover from the major injuries she suffered earlier in the quad and resulting surgeries. Instead 2019 was another year of Iordache in limbo as she continues into an uncertain future.
Mai Murakami: Mai was the most promising gymnast in the Japanese lineup and a top contender for an AA medal. However she would be rendered ineligible for Japan’s 2019 World Championships team. The reason for Mai’s ineligibility was a badly thought out team selection process that awarded spots months before the competition was slated to start. It didn’t account for a scenario where a gymnast had to miss a qualifier with a minor injury, but would be fully healed in time for the World Championships.
Aliya Mustafina: With seven Olympic medals in her trophy case Aliya has had one of the most storied careers in WAG. She competed at the 2019 Birmingham World Cup but the rest of 2019 saw Mustafina pulling out of various competitions either because of injury or to prepare for a future competition instead. As an aging veteran who is preparing for her third Olympics, it is a completely understandable move. Mustafina’s absence can be described as a decision to forgo 2019 to preserve her body and health for the 2020 Olympics.
Elena Eremina: After a promising 2017 season Eremina missed all of 2018 as she recovered from back surgery. Her 2019 season has proved that she is still not back to top form. Eremina competed in various competitions but her results were not enough to make her a strong contender for the Russian World Championships team. Eremina’s trajectory is a heartbreaking case of burnout as her impressive junior career and immediate success once she turned senior has come at a cost. The good news for Eremina is that she is by no means out of contention for 2020 and has plenty of time to regain her old form.
Vanessa Ferrari: At 29 years old and already a veteran of three Olympics, Ferrari opted to use the World Cups to qualify for the Olympics. Her absence from the 2019 World Championships can be chalked up as a combination of previous injury history, a surgery she underwent during the season, and an attempt to preserve her health for the upcoming Olympics. But also the consequence of FIG’s 4+2 Olympic qualification process which diminishes the competitive field of the World Championships.
Morgan Hurd: The last gymnast of the bunch who didn’t make it to the 2019 World Championships, Morgan had performed exceptionally well all throughout the current quad up until the selection camp that was used to determine America’s 2019 World Championship team. For Hurd, her omission from the 2019 World Championships can be blamed on having a bad competition at a camp where it was imperative that she hit. But also USAG’s selection process that was merit based and factored only performances that occurred shortly before the World Championships were to start. Morgan was done in by not having her previous competitive resume act as a safety net as USAG emphasized a selection process that was defined by the performances of the gymnasts and not a committee.
Three of the nine gymnasts ended up making it to the 2019 World Championships. They were Simone Biles, Jade Barbosa, and Ellie Black. If you watched the 2019 World Championships, you probably know where this is going.
Jade Barbosa: Suffered an ACL tear in the team qualifications stage of the 2019 World Championships. The injury not only knocked her out of the competition, but also has made it virtually impossible for Barbosa to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Ellie Black: After strong performances in the two team stages of the competition, Black advanced to the AA. On her final rotation and with a medal within reach, Black opted to try a more difficult vault in her attempt to secure another podium finish. It resulted in a fourth place finish and multiple ligament tears in her ankle forcing Black to withdraw from Event Finals. The injury will now be a major cause for concern as Black tries for the 2020 Olympics.
By the time Event Finals started Simone Biles was the last of the nine gymnasts still standing. Simone did what she does best and left Stuttgart with five gold medals. Simone proved to be the exception to this story. And I wouldn’t say it was a mere coincidence that Simone was the only one to overcome this trend. It is part of what defines Simone as a legendary athlete.
Greatness is the ability to overcome the injuries and the slide in performance with age that plagues your rivals. It is having the ability to maintain pace and consistently put up phenomenal results that no one else can match. It is an indicator of raw athletic talent that goes beyond an athlete having the ability to jump higher and run faster, but can take the pounding sports puts on the human body that wears out regular athletes who aren’t a physical freak of nature.
As for the rest of the athletes, the 2019 World Championships curse is merely a stranger than fiction storyline of how so many gymnasts managed to miss the 2019 World Championships, and the way that they did so. Most of these cases had little in common and it became astounding how these gymnasts kept getting knocked out of the competition in increasingly unique/unusual ways. From the overly complex 4+2 system that will soon be scrapped, to Japan’s incompetent team selection process backfiring spectacularly on them, to USAG after years of emphasizing the committee selection process punted the ball and put team selection in the hands of their gymnasts.