Wednesday, September 11, 2013

WAG: Understanding the Post-Olympics Letdown

The grumbling began last September.

"Why are the American gymnasts doing the Kellogg's Tour? Everyone should be like Kyla, and everyone should be back in the gym! These girls are never going to make it to Worlds. Never."

The Hyperbolic Negative Nancys and Negative Nathans weren't exactly correct. Besides Kyla, one American gymnast did return to competition this year. Despite her yucky injury, McKayla Maroney looks poised to win a vault medal and possibly a floor medal. The other three members of the Fierce Five… Aly, Jordyn, and Gabby… yeah, no.

Thankfully, the rest of the gymnastics world carried on. Having given up hope on the majority of the Fierce Five, gymnastics fans were eager to cheer on Olympic medalists like Ksenia Afanasyeva and Viktoria Komova. But then, Awful August happened. Suddenly, Ksenia Afanasyeva was out with an ankle injury, and Viktoria Komova came down with a nasty illness of some sort.

And so, with the injuries and illnesses piling up, gymnastics fans are exasperated. "This World Championships is going to suck. Might as well put an asterisk next to the names already."

Well, friends, guess what. The Post-Olympics World Championships usually do suck, but they only suck for those who have the wrong expectations…

A Mini History Lesson

First things first, the post-Olympic World Championships have not always existed. From World War II until 1978, the World Championships were held every 4 years, and they marked the mid-point between two Olympic Games. For instance, after the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, the next World Championships was the 1966 World Championships in Dortmund, and that was the only World Championships prior to the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

Starting in 1978, though, the World Championships became a more frequent event, and the first post-Olympics World Championships was held in 1981 in Moscow. Over the past 30+ years, the frequency and formats of the World Championships have changed on a regular basis. But ever since 1981, there has been a post-Olympics Worlds, and they have always crowned individual World champions.

What happens to your Olympic gold medalists?

Curious about this question of Post-Olympics letdown, I decided to quantify it, and one way to do that was to compare Olympic podiums with World podiums. You see, whenever we talk about the year after the Olympics, the question of continuity always comes up. If only our Olympic champions would continue to compete and win medals after the Olympics…

That seems to be a perennial complaint among gymnastics fans, but how realistic is it? Just how frequently does an Olympic champion in the all-around win the all-around title at the following Worlds? Just how frequently does an Olympic vault champion win the vault title at the following Worlds? Just how frequently… you get the point.

Here's what I found…

Event% Frequency 

In other words, since 1980…

  • Not a single Olympic all-around champion has won the all-around title at the following World Championships.
  • Only 1 out of the past 9 Olympic vault champions has won the vault title at the following World Championships.
  • 5 of out of the past 9 Olympic bar champions have won the bar title at the following World Championships.
  • Only 1 out of the past 9 Olympic beam champions has won the beam title at the following World Championships.
  • Only 1 out of the past 8 Olympic floor champions has won the floor title at the following World Championships.
For the extreme gymnastics nerds, here's a complete list:

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld Year
VaultSimona Amanar19961997
BarsMaxi Gnauck19801981
BarsDaniela Silivas19881989
BarsSvetlana Khorkina19961997
BarsSvetlana Khorkina20002001
BarsHe Kexin20082009
BeamDaniela Silivas19881989
FloorDaniela Silivas19881989
If you click on the year, you'll find links to the routines.

If you're a huge fan of bars, you probably haven't been that disappointed over the last 30-some years, but for many gymnastics fans, the post-Olympics World Championships is like sitting down to a BIG five-course meal of… Skittles. It's just not satisfying, and in part, it's because we rarely get to see our Olympic Champions on top of the world the following year.

Then again, maybe asking the Olympic champions to win yet another gold is asking a lot. I mean, it ain't easy being the best in the world for two years in a row, and as a gymnastics fan, I'd be happy if the Olympic champions won a medal of any color. I'm not a gold snob.

So, I did some more comparing of podiums for the Olympic champions since 1980…

% Frequency:
Won a Medal
% Frequency:
Did NOT Win
a Medal

The vault and beam numbers are bumped up a little bit, and then, there's Yelena Davydova who followed up her 1980 all-around victory with a bronze in 1981. But really, the numbers are pretty disappointing. Unless, of course, you love uneven bars so hard. In that case, the odds seem to be a little more in your favor.

Again, for my super gym nerd readers, here are your Olympic champions who became silver and bronze medalists the next year.

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld YearWorld Medal
All-AroundYelena Davydova19801981Bronze
VaultEcaterina Szabo19841985Silver
VaultLavinia Milosivici19921993Silver
BeamEcaterina Szabo19841985Silver
BeamCatalina Ponor20042005Bronze

Side bar: I have a HUGE crush on Davydova's 1980 mount on uneven bars, and her presentation on floor is swoon-worthy.

What about the silver medalists?

To a certain extent, it makes sense that very few Olympic champions return to such great heights. I mean, can you think of a bigger accomplishment than winning an individual gold medal at the Olympics? Why not quit while you're ahead? And if they do continue, can you imagine how hard it is to push yourself when you've already achieved your dream? (Plus, there are factors like age, injuries, the spunky new batch of seniors, and in the 1980s, boycotts.)

So, maybe I've been looking for continuity in the wrong places. Maybe if we fall in love with the Olympic silver medalists, then we won't be so disappointed. It would make sense that the second-place finishers would return to the following World Championships with something to prove. Plus, they could take advantage of all those lazy gold medalists retiring, right?

I don't know about you, but I've heard this theory countless times. And it's always backed up with one name: Shannon Miller. In case you weren't alive at the time, here's another mini history lesson: Having finished second in the all-around in Barcelona, she went on to win the all-around in 1993 and 1994. The end.

So, if Shannon Miller could do it, others should be able to do it, right? So, I did some more calculations for the silver medalists…

% Frequency:
Won a Medal
% Frequency:
Did NOT Win
a Medal

…and found the Shannon Miller Fallacy, a type of hasty generalization. Eager to prove that our silver medalists are hungry for gold, we search our memories, trying to recall examples that prove our point. We think of Shannon Miller and say, "It's totally possible." The problem is that Shannon Miller was the exception--not the rule.

  • 8 of the past 9 Olympic silver medalists in the all-around did not go on to win a World all-around medal the following year. 
  • 5 of the past 7 Olympic silver medalists on vault did not go on to win a World vault medal the following year. 
  • 7 of the past 8 Olympic silver medalists on bars did not go on to win a World bars medal the following year. 
  • 8 of the past 8 Olympic silver medalists on beam did not go on to win a World beam medal the following year.
  • 5 of the past 7 Olympic silver medalists on floor did not go on to win a World floor medal the following year.

So, which Olympic silver medalists have actually won a medal?

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld YearWorld Medal
All-AroundShannon Miller19921993Gold
VaultSteffi Kraker19801981Bronze
VaultAndreea Raducan20002001Bronze
BarsBi Wenjing19961997Bronze
FloorSvetlana Boginskaya19881989Gold
FloorSvetlana Khorkina20002001Bronze
Again, click on the year to watch the routines.

In case you have forgotten, Bi Wenjing also did a Mo salto in 1996.

What about the bronze medalists?

If there's a Shannon Miller Fallacy, you can bet 25 rope climbs that there's also a Svetlana Boginskaya Fallacy. Again, for the youngsters out there, Svetlana won bronze in the all-around at the 1988 Olympics. The following year, she won gold in the all-around at the 1989 World Championships. To state the obvious, Svetlana Boginskaya, however, was a bit of a gymnastics unicorn.

% Frequency:
Won a Medal
% Frequency:
Did NOT Win
a Medal
The numbers for floor look so odd because in 1992, there were three bronze medalists.

In other words…

  • Only 2 of the past 8 Olympic all-around bronze medalists in the all-around have won an all-around medal at the following World Championships. 
  • Only 1 of the past 8 Olympic bronze medalists on vault has won a vault medal at the following World Championships. 
  • Only 1 of the past 9 Olympic bronze medalists on bars has won a bars medal at the following World Championships.
  • Only 2 of the past 8 bronze medalists on beam have won a medal at the following World Championships.
  • Only 1 of the past 11 Olympic bronze medalists on floor has won a medal at the following World Championships.

Again for the gym nerds…

EventGymnastOlympic YearWorld YearWorld Medal
All-AroundSvetlana Boginskaya19881989Gold
All-AroundSimona Amanar19961997Silver
VaultGina Gogean19961997Bronze
BarsShannon Miller19921993Gold
BeamGabriela Potorac19881989Bronze
BeamGina Gogean19961997Gold
FloorShannon Miller19921993Gold

So, if you're looking for continuity during the post-Olympics year…

Just stop.

Unless, of course, you're an eternal optimist and you just can't help yourself.

Or unless you always fall in love with the Olympic champions on bars. In that case, keep doing what you're doing. Really, the bars champions are the only female Olympic medalists who do well at the post-Olympics World Championships with any kind of frequency, but let me warn you: even those ladies will disappoint you from time to time.

That said, there's another question that remains…

Is the 2013 World Championships going to be an anomaly? Is it going to need some kind of asterisk?

The short answer: No. The long answer… Well, let's break down the podiums…




Now, I realize that there are limitations to my data. I can't give you a detailed breakdown and tell you what percentage of Olympic medalists did not place at the following Worlds due to injury, sickness, retirement, and/or a terrible performance at the World Championships. So, I can't tell you if this year's number of injured athletes is typical.

But what I can tell you is this: Numerically speaking, the 2013 podium probably won't be an anomaly. As usual, the majority of the medalists will be different faces. Granted, they might not be the faces that you want to see, but as usual, they--for the most part--won't be the faces of the Olympic medalists…

…with the exception of uneven bars. Once again, we have an Olympic all-around champion who could continue the long legacy of winning during the post-Olympics World Championships.

With so many athletes out, is there anything to look forward to?

Yes, yes, there is. There may be a few opportunities for gymnastics unicorns. As we have seen, very few Olympic silver and bronze medalists go on to win post-Olympics World Championships medals. However, a few gymnasts could be the rare exceptions this year.

McKayla Maroney, for example. If she is named to the U.S. team and if she wins gold in Antwerp, she will be the first Olympic silver medalist on vault to win vault gold at the following World Championships.

Aliya Mustafina, as well. Should she win gold in the all-around, she will follow in Svetlana Boginskaya's footsteps. (1988 bronze medalist; 1989 gold medalist) Should she win silver in the all-around, she will follow in Simona Amanar's footsteps. (1996 bronze medalist; 1997 silver medalist.) And should she somehow manage to get it together and win gold on floor, she will follow in Shannon Miller's footsteps. (1992 bronze medalist; 1993 gold medalist).

And, of course, there's a plethora of new-ish gymnasts to get excited about!

Now, I have a question for you…

Why do you think the Olympic bars champions have been able to do so well during the Post-Olympics Worlds?

Related Reading:

MAG: Will 2013 Be the Year of the Unicorn?

GymCastic: Gymnastics Fail: Fierce Five Off the Podium at the American Cup
Couch Gymnast: What in the Worlds?
Gymnastics Examiner: 10 gymnastics videos you should watch right now (Post-Olympic year edition)


  1. Thank you! I see WAY too many people writing off Antwerp just because their favorites won't be there. For a fandom obsessed with the past, historical perspective is sometimes sadly lacking in the gymternet; I appreciate hard numerical breakdowns like these. Here's to a good competition!

  2. "With so many athletes out, is there anything to look forward to?"...why certainly! Only one of the greatest athletes ever to take the field in any sport - Kohei Uchimura.

    Jake and Sam will be back for the people who just "like to watch".

    Kenzo Shirai, Epke Zonderland, Zhang Hongtao, Yang Hak Seon, a bunch of new Chinese guys, the return of Hambuchen, Kukenskov going for Russia..

    The MAG Olympic AA,PH,SR,VT,HB Gold medalists will all be in Antwerp.

    I don't see a problem here that can't be solved by watching men's gymnastics.

    1. Always quick with a non-sequitur. Don't worry, Ono. The report on the men is coming.

    2. Sorry. I'm just sick of hearing people (not you) complain that Worlds might as well be cancelled because Komova won't be competing.

  3. Andreeaa Raducan won a vault medal in 2000? Who knew? (did you mean floor?)

    Great article. But one thing that surprises me is how people are acting like the gymnasts that are out being out is the end of the world when there are still plenty of big names on each event and in the all-around expected to be there. Honestly I'm looking forward to seeing some talent that might not get the chance to shine when more dominant athletes are present having the opportunity to show off!

  4. Never mind about the Raducan comment... Apparently I'm drunk.

  5. I love this!! This is so great! Thanks for crunching the numbers.

    You should add Andreea Raducan to the all-around chart (with an asterisk if you must). She's the true 2000 Olympic all-around champion, no matter what the ridiculous IOC says, and then she won all-around bronze at the 2001 Worlds.

    I really enjoy the Worlds the year after the Olympics. It's exciting to see newcomers and who of the veterans are still competing. It sets up the new Olympic quad!

    But wouldn't it be really cool if the post-Olympic Worlds was a Junior Worlds for those who will be age-eligible for the next OIympics? It'd give the seniors a rest and the juniors international experience. I wish that's how it was!

    1. Nobody is the "true" AA 2000 champ b/c they should've started over after they realized they put their athletes' lives at risk with that horrific vault setting. Raducan definitely got screwed with the cold medication debacle but no more than Khorkina, who was first going into finals, or anyone else who had a realistic shot at the gold. They should just vacate all the AA results, they're a joke.

  6. Waitwaitwait: Silivas/FX/89 commentary, Bellu found a PIECE OF CARPET UNDER HER KNEECAP? WTF?!

  7. So, it would be super helpful if in your first table you labeled the % frequency --> what? % .. I'm a data analyst, so maybe I'm a bit picky, but I like to be able to scan tables and get the information without having to read the further explanation, which you do have below :)