Connecticut residents watching the televised coverage of the men’s and women’s gymnastics competitions at the 2016 Olympics from Rio de Janeiro will likely see some familiar faces. The run-up to the Olympics will come through Hartford that summer, as USA Gymnastics rolls out a new split schedule for the men and women, which will bring the mens’ National Championships to the XL Center, and the women for a pre-Olympic competition. For the first time since 1976, the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in gymnastics will be held on different days, in different cities. The women's gymnastics trials has been awarded to San Jose, and the men's trials to St. Louis, to be held in late June and early July.
The trials will follow the U.S. Championships, which will also be held in different cities. The men’s championships will be held in Hartford, June 3-5, 2016. The women will also be in town, competing in the Secret Classic – a major pre-Olympic event. The women will move on to their national championships three weeks later in St. Louis.
Why the new event pairings and tradition-breaking schedule? It’s all about the men.
In an effort to boost the mens’ team’s chances in the 2016 Olympics, and increase public interest in the team, the competition schedule has been revised. USA Gymnastics president Steve Penny explained in published reports that the organization moved up the men's trials to give the team more recovery time before the Rio Games. The U.S. men earned the top score in qualifying at the 2012 London Olympics but dropped to a disappointing fifth in the team finals. The men will have about six weeks to prep between the trials and the Olympics, which begin on Aug. 5, 2016, compared with four between the trials and the games in 2012.
Performance and notoriety go hand-in-hand. Despite having earned a Silver Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, for example, American gymnast Jonathan Horton did not become a household name in the U.S. That’s not surprising, as the public generally is more focused on the women’s teams competing in the Olympics every four years.
“People think gymnastics, and they think little girls in leotards, powerful and graceful, and they forget about our side,” Horton recently told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Right now, there’s this stereotype that we’re not a masculine sport. All of us are trying to change that image that it’s a sissy sport. It’s not.”
The Post-Gazette noted that in most other countries where gymnastics skills are cultivated, the men are still more popular than the women. Because of that, Penny noted, there is more depth among the men in international competitions, which has made it tougher for the U.S. team to bring home medals with the same frequency as the women’s team.
Inside Gymnastics magazine reported last year that “in the NCAA, men’s teams are losing funding while women’s teams are being created,” adding that “The reality is - boys’ gymnastics has never been as popular as girls’ gymnastics.”
Only six states sponsor a high school boys gymnastics championship, and only 17 Division I colleges still support men’s gymnastics programs, the newspaper reported. USA Gymnastics is making a concerted effort to reward male gymnasts who are competing in club programs at the high school and college level with recognition for their effort, Penny told the Post-Gazette. “There’s always been more sport opportunities for young men than there were for women. The role models for women always stand out. For men, it’s a more cluttered sports landscape.”
There’s little doubt about the popularity of gymnastics during the Olympics. After the 2012 Olympic Games in London, there was an analysis of the sports and athlete mentions on Twitter, which revealed that there were more than 150 million Summer Games tweets. According to Twitter, the sport which saw the most Twitter conversation was soccer with well over 5 million Tweets. Rounding out the top five were swimming, track & field, gymnastics and volleyball.
USA Gymnastics tends to return to cities that have been successful hosts previously for major gymnastics competitions, and that is true for San Jose, St. Louis and Hartford. The XL Center has hosted the USA Gymnastics national championships twice: in 2010 and 2013. Neither was an Olympic year. 2016 will be.
2016 Competition Schedule
- National Championships, Hartford, June 3-5
- Olympic Trials, St. Louis, June 23-26
- Secret Classic, Hartford, June 3-5
- National Championships, St. Louis, June 23-26
- Olympic Trials, San Jose, July 8-10