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Friday, August 15, 2008


posted by on August 15 at 11:02 AM

Nastia on (off) the beam

Yesterday was some awesome Olympics, no? I especially liked Rebecca Soni stuffing the commentators’ feet way up their throats and Ryan Lochte winning something, finally.

But it’s a good thing for women’s gymnastics, I think, that Nastia Liukin’s balance, flexibility, and ability to actually listen to music won out over Shawn Johnson’s little bitty power acrobatics. The artistry gap really made the difference, because both Americans turned in close-to-flawless routines.

For those of you who are worked up about the age of the Chinese gymnasts, the results in the all-around competition are instructive: When the Chinese coaches couldn’t mix and match older and younger gymnasts, as in the team competition, the tiny size of the possibly underage Chinese all-around competitors became a liability. Jiang Yuyuan attempted Shawn Johnson’s 2.5 twisting Yurchenko, a very difficult vault—but she’s almost ten pounds lighter than Johnson, and she wasn’t able to punch the springboard as hard or achieve the air time necessary to complete the rotation. Her fall on that exercise pushed her out of medal contention. Bronze medalist Yang Yilin, whose age is also in dispute, also had much lower scores on the speed and power-oriented events of vault and floor exercise. Combine that with her indifference toward dance, and she came up short. But if she were a little older? Who knows what might have happened?

You could almost eliminate the (under)age advantage in the team competition, it seems, by requiring that all three gymnasts compete on every event. Of course, that would’ve pushed out the 33-year-old German vaulter, too, and everybody loves her. The other possibility would be to go back to a capped high score that doesn’t reward reckless escalation in difficulty—the open-ceiling start value being a misguided recent change that tends to benefit younger, more fearless gymnasts.

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Slog Happy and a general annoyance with endless swimming heats meant that I missed most of Liukin (also, that I wanted to be somewhat awake at work this morning), but I've really liked what I've seen of her. Definite artistry, and I kind of like seeing someone not so bubbly be the big winner this time.

Posted by Abby | August 15, 2008 11:08 AM

People actually watch the womens events? I thought that was what Tivo was for. I mean come on. If it's participants wear eyeshadow, and/or there is music involved, it may be something but its not a sport.

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | August 15, 2008 11:17 AM

Thanks for this insightful commentary. You don't get this from the happy drones at the network. I have to admit disappointment that her name isn't "Nasty Aliukin" as I first believed. And Rebecca Soni is awesome.

Posted by Fnarf | August 15, 2008 11:19 AM

I think you can see some of it on Comcast OnDemand and at the CBC website as well, Abby.

I'm not sure changing things that would encourage even younger gymnasts is such a hot idea, especially with the move to using 14 yo girls pretending to be 16.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 15, 2008 11:19 AM

uh, there's only music involved in the floor routine and you, sir or madame (but I'm guessing you have/are a dick), are an idiot...

Posted by michael strangeways | August 15, 2008 11:20 AM

Thanks, Will, but I don't have Comcast, I have DirecTV (I need my Bundesliga, damn it). I might go and check it out on the Internet, but I don't think that my need is that strong.

Posted by Abby | August 15, 2008 11:21 AM

@2: Sorry, dude, are you thinking about rhythmic gymnastics? Ice dancing? No? Then shut up. Gymnastics has a good claim to being the most difficult Olympic sport. You have to train longer and more intensively, you have to be both insanely strong and insanely flexible, and the factors that aren't strictly athletic are about psychology (mastering new elements in training, not freaking out in the face of stiff competition) rather than chance (as in track or swimming, where your response time at the start is half the battle).

Whether the kids wear eye shadow is, frankly, irrelevant.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 11:22 AM

I didn't think that we were supposed to be watching the olympics because of China's human rights track record.

Posted by krab apple | August 15, 2008 11:25 AM

@4: No, you misunderstand me. Changes that encourage younger gymnasts have already been made (unlimited ceiling for start value, for example, as opposed to a set list of skills that would get you to a perfect 10, as in past Olympics). I'm proposing ways FIG could disincentivize underage competitors—going back to a capped high score, requiring the same three gymnasts to compete on every event in the team competition.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 11:29 AM
If it's participants wear eyeshadow, and/or there is music involved, it may be something but its not a sport.
Posted by ahem | August 15, 2008 11:50 AM

@2, you're a fucking idiot. any one of those girls could probably beat the shit out of you without breaking a sweat.

though annie, I think it does matter that the girls wear eyeshadow and all the glitter. there is obviously a great deal of effort of turning these super talented, world-class athletes into infantilized characters. it creeps me out.

Posted by craig | August 15, 2008 11:51 AM

Oh. Sorry, images of miniature 14 year old Chinese gymnasts trying to compete in curling competitions at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver BC are now running through my head.

Thank god they're not heavy.

Posted by Will in Seattle | August 15, 2008 11:53 AM

The thing that really sours women's gymnastics for me is the fake smile some of them have while doing the floor routines. I can't remember which one of the Chinese gymnasts it was last night - Yuyuan? - but her smile creeped me out bigtime. It doesn't seem like the men have to smile in their routines.

I always forget how amazing the gymnasts are until the Olympics are on. I still can't get over how hot Raj Bhavsar is.... :)

Posted by asteria | August 15, 2008 11:55 AM

@14: I just think that goes on more at a marketing and commentary level than in the competition itself. That Visa commercial with musicbox chimes disparages Liukin's athleticism; lots of remarks by the idiot commentators infantalize the competitors. Eye shadow is the least of it.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 11:57 AM

It bugs me that during the floor exercises, the female gymnasts have to wave their hands around and do 'cute' little dance moves. It's ridiculous. Let them be athletes, not adorable.

Posted by Abby | August 15, 2008 12:01 PM

@14 true enough. it's a construction that is formed from number of different places. regardless, it's super infuriating. have you read Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (I think that's the title)? Super interesting about the fucked up system that produces young athletes in gymnastics and ice skating. it's a little sensationalist but still an interesting read.

Posted by craig | August 15, 2008 12:07 PM

Women's gymnastics has always combined dance and acrobatics. You guys should understand that eliminating dance and concentrating on tumbling would have exactly the effect you claim to find disgusting: Rewarding tiny fearless moppets, who are almost without exception much younger than skilled dancers who can still cut it on the athletic side.

And we should also understand that the mask of masculine concentration that the men affect is just as much a parody of gender roles as the women's cute smiles and ballet fingers.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 12:08 PM

@16: I have read it, yes. Again, I think the fucked up parts of gymnastics are the cruel mind games required to get kids to do things that put them at risk of breaking their necks five to six days a week, 20 to 60 hours a week, from the age of 3 until 20. Training is the scary part, not the costumes the kids wear in competition.

I think ice skating is way more precious than gymnastics, and ballet puts teenage girls at much higher risk of eating disorders.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 12:13 PM

I have to say, I thought Shawn Johnson was the better performer last night, and I don't think the Chinese Gymnast should have gotten bronze... There is definately a bias towards the chinese (home turf) but let's not be as obvious as they are... Shawn Johnson had a wonderful vault, and yes, you could take off maybe .5 points, but a full point? Bullshit.

I almost turned it off last night thinking the scoring was such shit that it wasn't worth watching.

Oh, and for the underage gymnast, it doens't even out. It's like doping, only with younger kids... who train their entire life (from 3)... before they hit puberty and get sidetracked by boys and getting laid. There is evidence that one of the gymnasts is 13, at most 14 on the Chinese team. If it turns out that it eventually holds true... that will eliminate the Chinest from the competition and we will get Gold!

Posted by Jon H. | August 15, 2008 12:49 PM

But you have to admit that the Chinese gymnasts are hot.

Oh, yeah, ah, no-bama no we won't elect - go Hillary 2012.

Posted by clintonsarmy | August 15, 2008 1:11 PM

Unless you are 15 or younger, you should NOT think the Chinese gymnasts are hot

I'm confused about 'the ability to listen to good music' thing... The only event with music is floor, and 'good music' is generally not allowed there.

Posted by Piwacket | August 15, 2008 2:16 PM

I said "music," not "good music," and yes, I'm referring to the floor exercise. Liukin can dance to music; Johnson pretty much can't.

Posted by annie | August 15, 2008 2:45 PM

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