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?

9 thoughts on “Olympic Gymnastics for Beginners”

  1. Great analysis😉 Clearly you have to subject yourself to non-gym fans (you poor thing). Much like during NCAA finals I will have your blog up and expect fascinating insight and bitchy posts throughout all events. One thing I've noticed from the bandwagoners is that they're pro-USA all the way! People who follow gymnastics for more than 2 weeks every 4 years have favorites outside the USA. But you forgot the most unforgivable of all questions:

    Q: Don't you just love NBC's coverage and the commentary from Tim, Elfi and Al?
    A: *facepalm*


  2. I can barely contain my excitement. I follow gymnastics year round….and the 4 year fans really amaze me. Half of them think Nastia is going to win the all around. I did tell my boyfriend that if there is ever a time in our lives that he wants to neglect me- he should do it during the Olympics- because I probably won't notice.


  3. 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.

    Still 100 times better than dealing with the fake tens that plagued the 80s and, the 10-based scoring system which make NCAA gymnastics a travesty


  4. Actually, I think it came as rather a shock to my husband when we were first married and the Beijing Olympics came around how VERY into the Olympics I am. I basically ignored him or gave one-word answers to all his questions for two straight weeks and rarely took my eyes off the television or computer screen. But I figure it evens out-he has football and baseball seasons every year, I have the summer Olympics every four years, and, to a lesser extent, the Winter Olympics in between.


  5. Hilarious! I think this is my favorite part: “Don't tell Al Trautwig. Just let him have his thing.” So true! He gets very excited if someone goes OOB.


  6. 2012 Olympic Gymnastics Drinking Game

    1. 3 shots if the Queen shows up to the gymnastics event.
    2. Take a drink for every political figure shown (President, Will and Kate, etc.)
    3. Have each member in the room pick a country randomly from a hat. If your
    team loses you must take a shot. For event finals each must chose a particular
    gymnast and the same rule applies.
    4. Take a drink during every athlete interview.
    5. Is Romania wearing a white leotard? Yes? Take a drink.
    6. Finish the drink in your hand if the camera is glued to a gymnast with tears in
    her eyes. Good or bad.
    7. Take a drink every time they show a fan jumping around with a flag.
    8. Drink throughout the first vault after the commercial break.
    9. For every fall you must take a drink.
    10. Take a drink for each hug a gymnast receives after her performance.
    11. Take a drink each time a black gymnast is called naturally powerful or a
    white gymnast is called naturally graceful.
    12. Take a drink if they say a tiny, skinny, anorexic gymnast has the European
    look or that their style scores well internationally.
    13. Take a shot for every Chinese gymnast that looks 12 (your group decides).
    14. Every time AL mentions grips take a drink (the Americans wear them,
    Russians don’t, etc)
    15. Every time there is a fluff piece about the sacrifices made to make the
    Olympics finish your drink (they moved away from home, their dad works
    two jobs, etc)
    16. Take a drink when they mention Nastia.
    17. Did they just say the word pressure? Take a drink please.
    18. Take a drink every time a gymnast name/coach’s name/ or skill is
    mispronounced or just flat out wrong.
    19. Take a drink for every time an over-emphasis is put on a stuck landing.
    20. Take a drink every time you are told that the beam is only 4” wide…
    21. Tim Daggett just said Gymnastics 101, Exclamation Point, Kid on a
    playground. Take a drink.
    22. Elfi’s turn. She just pointed out an out of bounds. Even my dog can tell when
    someone steps step over the bold white line.
    23. Whenever a pink leotard flashes across the screen. Once per gymnast though,
    we don’t want you in the ER.
    24. The Marta clap, open palmed, overhead, slow motion clap. You know what I
    mean. Drink!
    25. Just zoom in on a bitch face? Drink bitch.


  7. Sounds like a great game. I expect to be plastered before the 4th rotation in Quals, TF or AA.
    One small correction: Tim does not say “Exclamation Point!” He says “Explanation Point!”


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