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Monday, July 30, 2012

For the greater good of the sport, it's time for some changes

Anastasia Grishina is another gymnast that missed qualifying for the All-Around Finals because of the two-per country rule. 

I'm loving all this gymnastics coverage! I know we're not even into finals yet, but my crotchety old-lady self can't help but think that of a lot of rules and trends that need to be overhauled, big time.

Obviously, the 2-per-country rule is ridiculous. If you want to determine the best gymnast in the world, shouldn't you include the 4th place finisher from prelims before you'd include the 25th place finisher? Not so long ago--early 90's??--it was a 3-per-country rule. The Soviets could easily sweep the medals. And they were that good, so didn't they deserve to? But with the breakup of the USSR, the depth of the individual republics' teams gradually diminished. Frankly, I think there was some sour grapes going on--if we can't sweep, no one will. My friend had a suggestion I liked--top ten make it regardless of country, below that, apply the rule of two.

The main rule I hate is the 5-3-3 team format--5-man team, 3 gymnasts compete, 3 scores count. The ideal team format is what we saw in Atlanta--7-6-5: 7-man team, 6 compete,  5 scores count. The advantage of the 5-3-3 format goes to the countries without a lot of depth. Again--in Atlanta you were still seeing products of Soviet training; now that those republics (as well as other formerly-strong small nations--Bulgaria, Hungary, etc) can't field deep teams, of course they're happy that a "team" means only three scores.

In the grand scheme of things, it benefits the sport to put as many athletes as possible in the Olympics. How many swimmers are there, for crying out loud? With all the different stroke/distance combinations, it seems like there are a hundred swimmers on the US team alone. When the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) chooses to bring fewer and fewer gymnasts to the world stage at a time when the public is clamoring for more, they are shooting themselves in the foot! These small teams also reduce the odds that teams will bring specialists like the great Oksana Chusovitina (who is still able to compete BECAUSE she can focus on her specialty) and the complete badass McKayla Maroney. They need to take a cue from swimming and enable as many gymnasts as possible to participate, because it brings more publicity for the sport. Let each country bring a team PLUS specialists, if they choose. Now THAT would be interesting.

Now that I've fixed all the regulations in Perfectworld, let's talk gymnastics specifically. A certain husband asked me, "Why do they do all that stupid dance? Why don't they just tumble? That's what everyone wants to see." Well, I LOVE a well-choreographed routine and a gymnast who can dance--it's part of the history and evolution of the sport. But I see his point, because not only are the routines not engaging, but the TV production of recent years is not allowing the music to be heard!! Back in the long-long-ago, like 1989, the best floor routines had a seamless flow from tumbling to dance. Lately, most of the routines are so crammed full of tumbling and jump requirements that the "dance" consists of a few choppy poses. So instead of seeing three excellent tumbling passes connected with graceful dance, you're seeing three excellent tumbling passes, one additional unimpressive tumbling pass, and lots of running around and robot moves.

The stupid jumps and back tucks out of big tumbling passes have got to stop. I'd much rather see a nice controlled lunge--also an integral part of traditional women's gymnastics. Bring back the lunge finish!

Know what I want to see on beam? A three-skill tumbling pass. Twenty years ago, every gymnast had a flip-flop-layout-layout pass--except the really great ones that did flip-flop-flip-flop-layout-layout or even flip-flop-layout-layout-layout. Routines from twenty years ago shouldn't look harder than routines being done today. Also, I wanna see a pretty handstand. Or a lovely valdez. Something. Anything. Anything other than trick, stop, trick, stop, trick, stop.

Now I don't want to be a complainer--there are totally great things going on at these Olympics. McKayla Maroney's rafter-grazing vault in prelims made even aforementioned cynical husband exclaim, "WOW!" The hours dedicated to gymnastics coverage are a real treat (now if we could just get that type of coverage in between Olympics). I love seeing ground-breaking, beautiful gymnastics, no matter who's doing it. But for the sport to progress, the rules and regulations need to progress.


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