A bizarre scene unfolded Monday during the men’s gymnastics finals when Ukraine intentionally tanked and forfeited a shot at a medal.
The move baffled the gymnastics world and now many are wondering if the team tanked on purpose to better set themselves up for the individual events. A similar move in badminton in 2012 ended with several athletes being kicked out of the games.
The Ukrainian team qualified seventh for the eight-team final, but during the final, it simply didn’t try.
As The Washington Post’s Scott Allen explained, countries must pick three gymnasts of their five-man squads to compete in the finals. Oddly, Ukraine picked just two athletes to compete in three of the six events — high bar, parallel bars, and rings — “a surefire way to finish last,” according to Allen.
Some in the gymnastics world were confused.
Wait a minute, Ukraine only put TWO guys up on PB???? What the #@* is that?
— Nancy Armour (@nrarmour) August 8, 2016
This was Maksym Semiankiv’s routine — he walked up to the high bar, jumped up, grabbed it, then dropped down. He bowed to the audience and walked off.
For reference of how quick his “routine” was, his name card was still on the screen when he jumped up on the bars and let go.
“That was strange,” an NBC gymnastics analyst said. “I’m … not sure what just happened.”
Here was Semiankiv’s parallel bars “routine.”
NBC’s analysts continued: “Truth be told, I’m still baffled by it. I don’t know … If you’ve already given up, what are you fighting for?”
Ukraine finished 72 points behind Japan, the gold medal winner.
The team’s reasoning is still unclear.
According to The Wall Street Journal’s Louise Radnofsky, Ukrainian gymnasts Vladyslav Hryko and Andrii Sienichkin said Semiankiv was injured and could not be replaced.
“Just before the start, he had problems with his hand,” Hryko said. “Even at the qualification, he was still able to work fine, but now before the start he couldn’t even support himself with his hand.”
Sienichkin said, “We didn’t have time to replace him or to change our team line-up.”
However, according to The Journal, the international gymnastics federation officials said that if Semiankiv was injured, he could have been replaced if Ukraine filled out a form and shuffled its lineup.
Steve Butcher, president of the men’s technical committee of the International Gymnastics Federation, told The Journal, “No [federation] rules prevented them from making changes. Every team has their own strategy. They chose not to compete for a medal tonight.”
The bizarre move has the gymnastics world speculating about Ukraine’s reasoning.
Some have wondered if the team was forfeiting the finals round to keep its gymnasts fresh for the individual round. Others wonder if Ukraine was letting Oleg Verniaiev, who will compete in Wednesday’s all-around final, rest. He competed in just two of six events on Monday.
Another common theory is that this was a purposeful protest.
NBC’s Andy Thornton said he was told that it was a planned move by Ukraine, which would contradict Ukraine’s reasoning that it couldn’t change its lineup.
Allen theorised that Ukraine may have been protesting an event from the 2012 Olympics:
“Was Ukraine trying to make a mockery of the sport as a form of protest against the International Gymnastics Federation for what happened in the men’s team final at the 2012 London Games, where Ukraine was denied a bronze after Japan appealed a score on pommel horse that was ultimately changed?”
Perhaps Ukraine was trying to send a message — though that message seems to have hurt the team in the long run.
What’s worth considering is if Ukraine will face any punishment. In the 2012 Olympics, eight badminton players were kicked out for throwing matches to try to get better future matchups. Though Ukraine’s situation is a little different, its methods may be punishable.
It’s an odd situation, and it feels as though answers are still to come.
Watch the highlights of Ukraine’s strategy:
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