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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Four things I can tell you about rhythmic gymnastics.

Nine years ago I toted my newfangled digital camera down to the convention center for the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championships. Rhythmic gymnastics, I'm told, is wildly popular in places like Bulgaria and various tiny European nations which were subdivided into even tinier nations in the '90's, while still serving primarily as a punch line in America (see: Old School with Will Ferrell).

I don't know as much about rhythmic gymnastics as you might think, because it's a totally different sport from artistic gymnastics. "Artistic gymnastics" is the official name of regular old gymnastics, FYI. (I remember being asked--more than once!--"So, you do what, beam, bars, cartwheels and things?....now do you also do the ribbon and the ball?" Yes, that IS a dumb question. It's sort of like asking a water polo player if they also ride horses.)

Anyway, I still have the photos from that competition, the quality only somewhat affected by the 2.1 megapixels I was packing in 2002 as well as the Katrina swill in which the photo CD wallowed for a couple of weeks. So despite the quality, I think you'll get an idea of how amazing rhythmic gymnasts are.  This Worlds was group only, as opposed to individual routines, and I can tell you group rhythmic--that's 5 girls performing together (or 6; they like to switch it up)-- is way more exciting. Here's what else I can tell you about rhythmic:

  1. They used to wear plain old leotards like real artistic gymnasts, but some time in the '90's got the go-ahead to break out the tricked-out costumes. It's always more fun when you can critique performance AND fashion. 
  2. Thanks to Cirque du Soleil, lots of rhythmic gymnasts go on to actually earn money. So if you like Cirque du Soleil, don't be hatin' on rhythmic. It's pretty much the same wackiness.
  3. The downside: disturbingly, the judges seem to really favor emaciated contortionists. As far as I'm concerned, a 190 degree split is pretty; a 270 degree split is cringe-worthy. And beyond aesthetics, it's absurd to still be talking about the dangers of being so underweight in this day and age. Though many would joke otherwise, rhythmic IS a sport, and I can't imagine how these unhealthy girls are able to perform. (I did read an interview recently 
  4. Rhythmic gymnastics--as I've found with every sport, from horse racing to beach volleyball to football--is infinitely more impressive when you see it in person. If you ever get the chance to attend a competition, do it.
So that's your rhythmic gymnastics primer, and now I will show you exactly why rhythmic gymnasts are pretty darn awesome. Take a look at these photos...specifically, these last one.

 They probably have the most fun coming up with interesting poses, because there's a lot you can do with five girls and several random objects. Ahem.

 This pose, for instance, would make a nice fountain.

 Somewhere in here there are five girls.

Notice how these gals look fairly healthy? They probably finished last.

 The better teams are more precise in unison--this is a pretty good example of a team hitting the same angle at the same time. This is a held pose, by the way, not a kick.

By contrast, this team is not as good--see how all their angles are totally different? Leg height, the angle of the knee bend, and even chest height--they're all over the place. Well, at least they have pretty ribbons.

 Is this just a little too close for comfort? Awkward.

Sometimes not pointing toes can be interesting but it's sort of driving me nuts here, like the giant poster of the yoga girl in Dick's Sporting Goods doing a split with open hips and a big old flexed foot. 

Behold, the winning team. And the reason why this is so impressive is: this is their opening pose. So what happens is, they get out there, wind themselves up in ribbons, hit this pose, and wait. And wait. And wait, just like this, till the music starts. And if you doubt the athleticism of rhythmic gymnasts, you can try this in your living room right now...and you don't even need a ribbon!

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