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Change of plan: Alternates can train in China

Alternates to the U.S. women’s gymnastics team were denied visas to get into China and train for the summer games later this month. Olympic participants get a combination credential and visa but alternates aren’t considered part of the team and must apply for tourist visas.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hold up, the alternates for the U.S. women’s gymnastics team might be going to China, after all.

The Chinese Gymnastics Association gave the Americans permission to train at one of its gyms in Tianjin, China, on Tuesday, and the alternates are in the process of applying for visas.

“We are now working on making the final decision on the training location,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics.

That was a change from earlier in the day, when Penny and national team coordinator Martha Karolyi said the alternates for the women’s team — Jana Bieger, Ivana Hong, Corrie Lothrop — would train in Tokyo because of visa restrictions.

Athletes on official rosters get an Olympic credential, which doubles as their visa. Alternates, however, do not get Olympic credentials and must get tourist visas.

The alternates for the U.S. men’s team already have received their tourist visas and will go to Beijing Normal, where the U.S. Olympic Committee will have a training center. The women’s team was only finalized on Saturday night.

“During the past few weeks, USA Gymnastics has been researching the most efficient process for obtaining visas for our replacement athletes,” Penny said. “We recently learned that they do not receive visas in the same manner as the rest of the official delegation.

“USA Gymnastics has also been researching the best possible training locations for our replacement athletes, which includes a facility in Tianjin and the possibility of going to Tokyo,” Penny added. “We were waiting for approval from the Chinese Gymnastics Association regarding the facility in Tianjin, which we received earlier today.”

Tianjin is only about an hour from Beijing. Tokyo is about a 2½-flight from Beijing. The alternates can be called upon to replace an injured gymnast until the U.S. women submit their roster, 24 hours before the team competition begins Aug. 10.