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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Round-off Roundup: Want to save men’s gymnastics? Bring back mixed pairs

Old competition format can help men’s gymnastics.

The Round-off Roundup.jpeg

Men’s gymnastics is in dire straits in the United States. At the collegiate level, many programs have been given the axe, along with other non-revenue men’s sports like wrestling, or swimming and diving, to comply with Title IX policies. In 1969, 210 institutions sponsored men’s gymnastics; today, only 12 Division I programs remain. As a result, many gymnastics clubs have either a minimal men’s team or none at all, choosing instead to focus their resources on the women’s programs.

Yet, thanks to new name, image and likeness rules at the NCAA level, many top male gymnasts have gained large followings on TikTok and other social media platforms. Ian Gunther at Stanford, for example, has 1.2 million followers on TikTok. World bronze medalist Fred Richard regularly gets several million views on his own videos. While people may not necessarily seek it out on their own, it’s clear that there is an audience for men’s gymnastics out there.

And so, there’s an easy way to increase the popularity of men’s gymnastics: bring back the “mixed pairs” competitions from the 1980s and 1990s. Under this competition format, one male gymnast and one female gymnast compete together as a pair against other teams of two. The International Mixed Pairs competition ran from 197995, and the Goodwill Games had a mixed pairs event alongside their traditional competitions. The European Masters of Gymnastics even added a rhythmic gymnast alongside the male and female gymnasts to make a trio. These days, however, mixed pairs competitions are rare. One of the only chances to compete in this sort of competition is at the Swiss Cup, which is difficult for American audiences to watch due to the time zone. Also, as an international competition, the U.S. can only send two gymnasts.

A mixed pairs competition would tie male gymnasts with more well-known female peers. Fans would watch to see their favorites on the women’s side and simultaneously be introduced to the top male gymnasts. For the athletes, more mixed pairs competition would create stronger relationships between male and female gymnasts. Most importantly, this sort of competition would be entertaining and fun: a break from the high stakes, high pressure competition and training cycle of elite gymnastics.

There’s two other small but significant changes that could help increase the popularity of men’s gymnastics. First, sell all tickets to gymnastics events as combined tickets to both the men and women’s session. Right now, tickets are sold for individual sessions, and to see the men compete, it’s usually necessary to buy a ticket specifically for the men’s session. If tickets to the women’s sessions included entry to the men’s session, a number of people would attend if only because they were already at the competition.

Even simpler? Run the men’s and women’s competitions concurrently. This used to happen at many competitions back in the day; for example, the American Cup had the men and women compete at the same time in the same arena. This setup would attract fans who already follow female gymnasts and help them develop an interest in the men’s side too.

Correction: There are 12 Division I men's gymnastics teams in the NCAA.