The Balance Beam Situation

Because gymnastics is a comedy, not a drama

Olympic Gymnastics for Beginners

Two weeks. We have just two weeks until the Olympics begin and I sequester myself in a live-streaming bunker heretofore unexplored by civilized man. Mmm, early-round badminton at 2:30am? I’m there! I’m already a little angry at NBC that ranking round archery on the morning of July 27th is not on their live streaming schedule on the Live Extra App. (Yeah, I’m not well.) Frankly, I will emerge from my cave on August 12th looking like the missing link. I have the Smithsonian’s number in my phone already just in case they need to make some observations for posterity.

But given that we are about to enter gymnastics’ quadrennial foray into public consciousness before the attention is squandered yet again, those of you with social tendencies (I’m sorry) may find yourselves in the awkward position of watching Olympic gymnastics with other people. More specifically, other people who don’t know anything about gymnastics.

It’s a harrowing experience, what with all the questions and lack of understanding about 180-degree splits, so after the jump I have provided a handy list of common questions with their appropriate responses to help you through the process. Feel free to refer to this list, perhaps even employing a simple point so you don’t have to use words, when dealing with a beginner.

Q: Are the American girls going to win?
A: First of all, let’s use “women” not “girls.” “Girls” is diminutive and lends the impression that this is not a real sport to be taken seriously. It reinforces the notion that we should not be too critical or put gymnasts in such a pressure-filled situation, and that attitude is disrespectful to them as athletes and ignorant of all of the hard work they have put in. To that point, “ladies” is no better. To paraphrase Martina Navratilova, “ladies” is subjective, “women” is biological, and most of these women are no ladies. 

As to the question, the answer is quite possibly, but not definitely. Certainly, you are being led to believe it is more of a lock than it is. If the Russians hit all their routines, it would not be a surprise to see them on top because of a significant advantage on bars. In the All-Around, while Wieber and Douglas may medal, they are not the favorites. Victoria Komova should win if she can stay on beam.

Q: That routine looked pretty good. Why are you making that noose?
A: Aside from obvious things like wobbles and steps on landings, deductions come from the legs not reaching a complete horizontal position during attempts at splits, leg separations during twisting and tumbling, a lack of pointed toes, low tumbling without proper flight, and the chest pointed down toward the knees on landing instead of up and facing forward. These are some of the most crucial qualities to a routine. You will learn. Actually, you probably won’t. Here are some crayons. Make a nice picture.

Q: That’s a deduction, right? I knew it.
A: Yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.

Q: They keep talking about going out of bounds on floor. Is that a big deal?
A: Not so much anymore. It’s always been a .1 deduction, but with the increase in total scores, going out of bounds is far less significant now than it used to be. Don’t tell Al Trautwig. Just let him have his thing.

Q: Why do the leotards look that way?
A: Because all leotards are designed by blind goblins who live in the last remaining sequin mine in Kazakhstan and have not seen daylight since 1991.

Q: And what’s with all the weird hair glitter?
A: How dare you? They are Russian gymnasts. They’re part of a tradition. They have a legacy to uphold. They can’t just show up at a competition not having submerged themselves in a barrel of hair glitter. That would be so disrespectful to the generations that have come before.

Q: Why do they have to dance?
A: Because gymnastics is the perfect combination of sport and art, where athletic skill is melded with artistic interpretation to create cohesive performance that is at the same time exciting, dramatic, competitive, difficult, and beautiful. It’s better than any stupid sport with helmets that you think you like.

Q: Then why is the dance so bad?
A: Preach!

Q: Are the Chinese all eleven?
A: No, they all appear to be the proper age and have been training for years and years. That’s why they’re not as great this time. They’re as haggard on the outside as you feel on this inside.  

Q: Why does that one look like she’s going to kill me?
A: Her name is Catalina Ponor, and she has killed men twice your size. Don’t mess.

Q: I liked that little hoppy thing. What was that?
A: That “hoppy thing” was a tour jete, and it was terrible.

Q: What the hell does that green triangle mean?
A: A group of useless people at NBC got it in their pea brains that this scoring system is too complicated. It’s not; it’s just stupid. Gymnasts receive a difficulty score for the elements performed in the routine and an execution score out of 10 for how well they perform them. These scores are then added together. That’s it. NBC has decided that’s so difficult for you to understand that they’ve concocted a system of green triangles and yellow rectangles to make it 16 times more complicated than it ever would have been otherwise. “NBC: We make it easy on no one.”

Q: Don’t you feel bad for her that she fell?
A: No. She got tight and didn’t trust her cues. Falls are always unacceptable. I have no heart or soul. Welcome to gymnastics.

Q: Is Mary Lou Retton in this competition?
A: What? . . . What?

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