When it comes to the Olympics, I am obsessed with watching gymnastics. There is no other sport that makes my palms sweat, fills me with awe, and outrages me quite like it.
I think the appeal is based in the undeniable recognition that I am utterly incapable of doing any of what they do. Have you seen the beam? It is four inches across. I can’t do a back-flip on the wide, wide ground, much less four feet in the air on half the width of a piece of notebook paper.
My favoritism also comes from doing gymnastics all through childhood and for one year in high school. I was inspired by the Magnificent Seven, and now I’m thrilled to be watching the Fabulous Five take home gold.
I haven’t specifically identified the gymnasts as women here, and that’s on purpose. One of my favorite things is watching men watch the men’s gymnastics. Whatever pride they took in their Crossfit workouts is quickly eradicated as they see gymnasts hold themselves aloft between two rings for minutes at a time. The horse? Ridiculous. The high bar? Absurd. I can’t even fathom their strength.
Can we just deal with the fact that gymnasts have to be great at EVERYTHING? It’s not like someone can saunter into the workout room and say they are phenomenal at the floor exercise. The coach would say, really? Become an expert at three more completely different events and then we’ll talk.
When you consider that, and then you see, say, the equestrian, don’t you feel the slightest irritation that they both get to be called Olympic champions? I do, is all I’m saying.
Other sports involve brute strength and incredible talent — track, swimming — but gymnastics is also risky. It feels like death is the aim of every piece of equipment. Watch someone fall from the high bar just once and you’ll shave ten years off your life. See a woman hurl herself toward the vault and try not to picture a head injury. Glance at the beam (without anyone even on it!), try not to envision a quadriplegic situation, and I will applaud you.
The outrage in gymnastics comes from its subjectivity. In swimming, track, shooting, rowing, there is the mighty clock to tell you if you’ve won or lost. In gymnastics, there is a group of judges who score each athlete. For any viewer, this is infuriating. There is no explanation given, just a number flashed on the screen that always seems wildly inadequate based on the performance given.
I always scream useless exclamations at the judges, “As if YOU could do it!” or “Where EXACTLY was the flaw in that?!” Anyone who can complete these routines and make it out alive deserves a gold medal, and maybe a suitcase of cash for their trouble.
Everyone has complained that the time difference is ruining the Olympics, but I’m grateful — it removes the anxiety. I know it’s more fun to sweat it out, but when it comes to gymnastics, I’ll take the relief where I can get it. USA takes home gold? Fantastic! I can watch them tackle the beam without fear of lifelong injury.