Copyright 2016 The Associated Press

The Future Four: Why Olympic gymnastics teams will have four members in 2020

Only four athletes per country will compete in the team competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics

The Magnificent Seven turned into the Fierce Five, then the Final Five. What will 2020 bring? How about the Future Four.

Last year, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) voted to reduce the number of gymnasts allowed to compete for their country in the team competition from five down to four. This rule will go into effect at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Why U.S. women's gymnastics team chose the nickname 'Final Five'

The successors to the 'Fierce Five' revealed their team moniker after winning gold in the women's gymnastics team final
Read More +

The size of each country’s gymnastics team has steadily shrunk over the years: The seven-person gymnastics team from 1996 went down to six in 2000, then down again to five in 2012. Now there will the four-person teams in Tokyo.

However, it’s not exactly that simple. For the Tokyo Olympics, a country will actually be able to bring six gymnasts: a four-person team plus two individual gymnasts.

All six gymnasts will compete in the qualification round, and they will all be eligible to advance to all-around and event finals. But only the scores of the four gymnasts designated as that country’s team will count towards qualifying for the team final.

FIG declared on their website that this rule change will actually help countries like the U.S. Many times over the last year, gymnastics fans have lamented the fact that U.S. has such a deep bench of talent that they have to leave medal-worthy gymnasts at home because there were only five spots on the time.

“Since six is greater than five, the new system actually creates opportunity for gymnasts from deep countries who might not be selected for a five-person Olympic team,” FIG explains in a FAQ on their website. The number of total gymnasts per Olympics has stayed the same: 98 men and 98 women.

Not everyone agreed with FIG’s decision, including Aly Raisman. For many gymnasts, there’s no bigger honor than winning a medal for your country with your teammates.

Martha Karolyi, the national team coordinator of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team who will retire after Rio, told OlympicTalk in March 2015, “It will hurt the spectacle, what the gymnasts can provide for the whole world, and would eliminate some of the strongest gymnasts just in our country.

"Even when the team was six we had to leave home some strong ones. I totally don’t feel like I am really happy about that, but decisions will be taken, and we will be with any kind of decision. That’s what we did in the past, even if something doesn’t seem like very smart or very good, but once the rules are set for us, we will go with it.”

For the 2016 Rio Olympics, all teams and individual gymnasts qualified through  two competitions, the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Rio Test event. The Olympic qualification rules will be less straightforward for Tokyo.

The gold, silver and bronze medal teams from the 2018 World Championships will earn team berths (with four members) to the Olympics. At the 2019 World Championships, the top nine teams (not including the 2018 World medalists) will earn team berths. Just like in Rio, there will be 12 teams competing in Tokyo.

Individual gymnasts will qualify through top finishes at the 2019 World Championships, the 2020 World Cups, 2020 World Challenge Cups and 2020 Continental Championships.

Watch: Full 'KAROLYI' documentary on Martha and Bela Karolyi

A look at Martha and Bela Karolyi's remarkable story that traces generations of gymnastics' most memorable tales, moments and champions
Read More +