While the U.S. women’s gymnastics team was at the world championships a few weeks back in Doha, Qatar, Jade Carey was biding her time.
Make no mistake: Carey, who picked up silver medals on vault and floor exercise at her rookie worlds in 2017, would have loved to be in Doha. But the 18-year-old from Phoenix had her reasons for abstaining from worlds this year. While the eyes of the world turned to the Middle East, Carey remained quietly focused on a different competition, lower profile than worlds, but with even more at stake.
The annual Turnier der Meister Individual Apparatus World Cup, colloquially known as the Cottbus after the German city that hosts it, began Thursday, kicking off the FIG 2018-19 and 2019-20 World Cup series. The victors of this series, which spans eight individual apparatus competitions over the next 16 months and concludes in the spring of 2020, will earn the gymnastics equivalent of a golden ticket: berths to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
New Olympic qualification rules in gymnastics stipulate that team sizes will drop from five members to four in 2020, a change that will emphasize all-around gymnasts for the team competition, but each nation also has the possibility of sending up to two “specialists” to compete as individuals.
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For a gymnast like Carey who stands out on one or two events, the world cups, where formerly nothing was at stake except glory, are suddenly a lot more interesting. It’s a gamble, but if she’s successful, she’ll have her Olympic qualification locked in months before the rest of the U.S. team for Tokyo is determined.
There was just one caveat: the Olympic qualification berths via the world cup route would not be eligible to gymnasts who helped their teams qualify to the Olympic Games, as the U.S. did in Doha. Knowing this, Carey voluntarily withdrew herself from consideration for the team for the world championships.
“I just wanted to focus on the bigger goal, and the best way to get me there and that was to forgo worlds this year,” she said.
She contented herself with following Team USA’s progress in Doha and keeping in close contact with her teammates, whose performances resulted in eight women’s medals, including a fourth consecutive team gold.
“It was a little hard to watch at home and not being there, but I’m really proud of them. They did so well,” Carey said. “I called them a bunch and talked to them, and that was fun. They looked so good, and looked like they were having fun.”
After Cottbus, Carey is scheduled to compete at the next two meets in the FIG series, in Melbourne, Australia, in February and Baku, Azerbaijan, in March. Her results will be evaluated after those three competitions to see whether she will compete in the others, her father and coach Brian Carey said.
Choosing to make an Olympic bid in this way was “a long decision,” Brian Carey added.
“We took a lot of time thinking about it and discussing it, and ultimately at the end of the day we decided to give her every opportunity for Olympic qualification,” he said. “We know she’s working hard in the all-around, and we know that only taking four for the team in 2020, we didn’t want to close the door on any opportunities.”
In Cottbus, Carey will be performing her usual jam-packed floor routine but holding back slightly on vault. She’ll compete two vaults that are not as difficult as she’s capable of, playing it safe as she works her way back from a knee injury sustained last March.
“It’s been really good so far,” she said. “After nationals we took it easy a little bit and then just started to build back up to routines. I’ve been dong routines at home for awhile now, so I feel confident in all my routines.”
Carey still dreams of returning to the world championships.
“Hopefully I can go next year,” she said.
For now, however, Tokyo takes priority.
Blythe Lawrence is a journalist based in Seattle. She has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.