Sports Gymnastics Wrap-Up
posted by August 20 at 12:42 PMon
Coming soon: Jen Graves and I liveslog some synchronized swimming. It’s on at midnight or thereabouts Friday night. If you read us, you have no life. But it will be awesome. I had no idea synchro teams, like, did little ’80s dances on the deck of the pool before jumping in. Ha.
I had a special request from a reader asking me to discuss the tiebreaking procedure on the uneven parallel bars, which NBC broadcast Monday night—I wrote a very long, technical post yesterday and then that transformer explosion happened, wiping out all my hard work. (I refuse to compose in another program. The reason is complicated.)
Basically, though, my feeling is this. He Kexin made some errors that were visible even to the untrained eye—a crossover step on the landing, notably. One’s instinct is that these errors should be punished more heavily than those that untrained observers wouldn’t notice. But some of the mistakes Nastia Liukin made—an overshot Pak salto (see this video for an illustration of the move—the first Pak salto is at 0:06-0:08), a fudged pirouette—indicate that she wasn’t up to the extraordinary difficulty of her routine. Overall, I want to say Liukin was better than He, but the fact that their scores were identical doesn’t shock me. (I can’t review NBC’s video of the routines, because they obnoxiously require Macs to run on Intel processors. But maybe you can.)
Now for the tiebreaking procedure. It’s pretty arbitrary, compared to, say, the way the gold and silver were decided for the men’s vault (highest score on either of the two vaults wins). In uneven parallel bars, the tiebreaking procedure requires certain outlying scores to be eliminated until there’s a difference between the two gymnasts. The Washington Post did the best job of breaking it down:
The only confusing thing about this graphic is it says the “highest remaining score [was] thrown out” at the end. Actually, the highest remaining deduction—i.e., the lowest score—was thrown out. At some point, FIG decided to give less credence to harsher judges and more credence to forgiving judges. Those were the rules going in. They’re no stranger than the way delegates were awarded in the Democratic presidential primary, which certainly has a greater impact on the world than who wins gold in a single event in women’s gymnastics in 2008. But the outcome was indeed disappointing.
Which leads me to Shawn Johnson’s gold medal on the balance beam. (Those of you who doubted that the beam had gotten much harder in my previous post should get a load of her routine—it’s all tumbling and one gorgeous full turn in relevé.) However, Ms. Johnson is clearly less flexible than every one of her opponents on the beam, making her leaps look positively puny. It should not have been that way. I get the feeling that she’s so obsessed with fancy tricks that she doesn’t put much work into flexibility training. Still, she performed beautifully, and it’s lovely that both of the talented, steel-nerved top American gymnasts left the Olympics with a gold medal. I still like Liukin better.