Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Low Res Olympics Notebook, Part 2: The Powder

So the other Olympic event I've been watching has been gymnastics. Last night's men's team final was the most fun I've had watching gymnastics since the Great Kerri Strug Ankle-Breakening of '96. It had all the ingredients: plucky underdogs (most no taller than Elijah Wood, though certainly more built), hard-luck stories, emotionless machines of proficient villainy, and one tragically disastrous floor routine by a guy who looks like Perry from Undeclared. Tale as old as time.

Anyway, the Chinese did prove to be unbeatable, and the Perry lookalike did doom a shot at the silver, but that run to the bronze was the stuff of third-place legend. Ultimate props to Jonathan Horton, the Platonic ideal of the Teeny-Tiny Muscle Child that characterizes male gymnasts. Kid stuck every landing there was to stick, then did his best to keep up the chatter on the sidelines like he was playing a real sport. Adorable! Seriously, though, Mr. Clutch, right here:

And if Horton was Mr. Clutch, then Justin Springs was Mr. Flash, because holy hell was he a maniac on that high bar. If you somehow missed it, here's a clip of the same routine from the Olympic trials earlier this year. Just imagine this routine, only flawless and crazier:

He also looks like Prince Harry, which don't hurt.

But the Chinese team indeed proved unbeatable, which ties into my problems with the gymnastics scoring system in general. I don't think the Americans were jobbed out of the gold or anything -- they stumbled at the end, after all. But the way the scoring is set up, with degrees of difficulty and potential points and yadda yadda, it seems like half the game is decided before the routines are performed. I'm down with valuing the more difficult programs, but if that's the case, either have everybody perform the same moves and see who does them better, or else allow the judges to internalize the difficulty of the routines and score them accordingly.

It's similar to the problem I have with synchronized diving that I alluded to before: the order of finish seems to be determined before the competition starts. It's a beautiful thing to watch, two divers in perfect synchronization. It'd work great as an exhibition. But I hate any sport where I have to wait for the announcers to tell me whether what I just saw was any good or not.

As for the female gymnasts...I just can't do it anymore. It creeps me out too much. This child...

...is not old enough to take aspirin when she breaks her ankles on the balance beam. Eleven years old, max. And it's that way with half the team. The announcers, during the prelims, were talking about one preteen Chinese girl who, and I'm paraphrasing, but not by much, "was in tears a year ago, wanting to quit the sport. Fortunately, her parents and coaches managed to convince her to change her mind." Yes, fortunately. That was before the announcers got their hooks into the Romanian team who, we're told, have lost their edge in recent years because they've lost that freaky, single-minded devotion to the sport that used to turn them into scary little automatons. After one particularly sub-par performance, one of the girls was met by a supportive hug from her coach. "That right there is the reason they're not number one anymore," said Kippy Martindale or whoever does the announcing with Al Trautwig. Sickening.

That's no way to get me to watch the "women's" finals tonight. Certainly not when there's Big Brother to be watched.


Vance said...

Yah. I can't do female gymnastics either.

But, remember to add 5 years to any guesses to chinese peoples age. Thank god we were all born with baby faces... (cause Im getting old...)

shalmelo said...

Justin Spring reminded me more of Matt Saracen than Prince Harry. Which caused me to start thinking of the mouthy little Horton kid as Smash Williams, which made the entire evening more entertaining than it already was...

Bo said...

Spring has this cute pouty concentration face when he's waiting for the previous guy's scores to go up. He's just adorable (of course, I mean adorable like a son of mine would be adorable).

Some idiot came on sports radio today here (a caller not a host) and talked about how "disgusting" the U.S. team's excitement about a bronze medal was. Really? It's not cool to be third best in the world at something? Really? Jeez. Maybe if he were Chinese and they had fallen to bronze. But the U.S. guys were so not expected to do anything. Imagine not knowing until last Thursday that you'll even be competing, and then having only one routine to do all night, and having that be the last routine of the whole night, and nailing it. Hell yeah I'd be excited!

jessica said...

Oh yeah, Artemev on the pommel was insanely awesome, as was Spring on the high bar, as was Horton all freaking night. So good. Hell yeah they should be thrilled.

The girls, on the other hand, were devastated by silver because of the falls at the end of the night that made gold an impossibility, though I honestly don't think it was going to happen anyway. The Chinese came in with a 2pt advantage because of degree of difficulty which is HUGE in gymnastics, where everything is measured in tenths. It absolutely should be standardized. The one thing about syncrhonized diving, while totally subjective and biased in scoring, is that in each round the teams are doing dives of the exact same degree of difficulty as everyone else. This should be true for gymnastics as well. I honestly prefer the former "perfect 10" system to the current one because of this new blatant mis-match of teams before a single apparatus is mounted.

All that said, you're absolutely right about the ridiculous culture of women's gymnastics in general. This poor 16yr old girl (listed as 20) is forced to stay with a sport so grueling it leaves her in tears and that's a good thing? These 12yr olds have been conditioned since age 3 when they were plucked from preschools and forced to starve and contort themselves and people are okay with this? The Romanians, who won the bronze by the way, have become failures in the sport because they show compassion and sympathy for one another? Completely ludicrous in every way, and it's these announcers that are perpetuating all these beliefs. I'd rather just watch it on mute and marvel at the skills.

Jon said...

I find myself watching women's gymnastics, even though I'm also slightly creeped out by it, and I have to say that I think things have improved in at least one way -- the announcers no longer talk about them as though they are pretty little princesses, but actually point out that they are physically tough and fierce competitors. Which is just a huge improvement.

Also, if I hadn't watched the women's prelim, I wouldn't know about the 33-year old German gymnast who will be competing for a medal on the vault. I will be so thrilled if she can beat all their pre-pubescent asses.

jessica said...

Okay, completely forget any credit I gave synchronized diving. Last night everybody did dives of the same degree of difficulty. Tonight they were slightly varied by tenths. Oh, and the US was edged out of a medal by things that made absolutely no sense to me. When that sanctimonious female commentator tsked a diving team for water splashing at slightly different angles, I washed my hands of the whole display. Bite my ass, synchronized diving.

Joe Reid said...

I'm saying.

My current Olympics gripes are: the whole Michael Phelps goggles thing, which drives me up the wall. Yes, he won his race with his eyes closed. Shut up, everybody. I turned on CNBC this morning and they were in the middle of discussing it, and the on-site reporter was blaming the goggle manufacturer.The studio host was my total hero, all "So instead of allowing for the possibility that Phelps maybe perhaps put the goggles on wrong, you're putting all the blame on Speedo?" Love.

My second gripe is my total inability to escape Misty May-Treanor or beach volleyball in general. Didn't that fad peak like ten years ago?

Bo said...

Misty May and her pal haven't lost in a gazillion years. It will never pass until one of them gives birth. (I'm sure we'll hear all about it when they're trying.)

Last night, at one point, a start value for someone (Nastya perhaps) changed during the routine because she didn't do a something well enough for it to count at all. So the announcers aren't doing a very good job of explaining that start values aren't carved in stone. It seems kind of like figure skating, where the technical judge is there just to assure that the elements are all completed, and the rest of the judges are there to give credit for how well their done.

Bo said...

Oh. And Alicia really is 20. She's a Soph or Junior at Brown. And it annoys me that the U.S. always has to make excuses--someone's being MEAN!--when they have problems. The woman is the captain, the old-head, the leader. She made a mistake, she should then suck it up and go on. Everyone else seemed to. She's not a kid, she's there because, not in spite of, not being a kid. I know I sound harsh.

No one should be competing on a broken ankle, by the way, which Memmel was. THAT is child abuse. The trend toward using girls who's fathers are their coaches is a bad one.

Bo said...

Sorry again. I meant the coach, not anyone here, on the "they're being mean" comment.

jessica said...

bo, I was referring to the Chinese "veteran" who is listed as 20 but looks 15-16, tops. In fact, if you watched swimming last night you saw Chinese women ages 19 and 17 take gold and silver in the 200fly and both of them look significantly older than any gymnast on China's team. All the American gymnasts look their ages, to me.

I find beach volleyball kind of great at times. Some of the shots really require a lot of finesse and/or hustle, though it is sort of silly how dominant the US is. Not a single American team has even lost a SET, much less a match.

As for Phelps, I love how the stupid announcers actually went to a slow motion replay of him taking his goggles off in his semifinal last night to see that water was indeed coming out of them. Do they really have nothing else to cover?

jessica said...

Huh, apparently only the beach volleyball they've shown has been quite that dominant. Each of the US men's teams have lost a match (plus another set for Gibb/Rosenthal, did I miss that?)and the non-May/Walsh women's team has lost a single set.

Linda said...

Really? Romania went down because of hugging?

That is...remarkable.