Since the men’s 100m final just got over – in 9.63 seconds – I think it’s polite to talk about the Olympics again. Like how, in public these days, mothers must count to 10 before launch into yet another anecdote about their children lest others be bored. Okay, this is my blog and I don’t really care about politeness but I just wanted to gather enough to say so that it doesn’t become like Twitter. Because it is important to distinguish between different social networking platforms.
One commenter on the one of the Olympics live blogs that I read (yes, they are my current addiction, seeing as one cannot do live streaming at work and keep a straight face even if one – i.e. me – knew how to do live streaming) mentioned a few days ago that this is when the less than seasoned Olympics watchers tend to slack off. And this is true. After the heady first few days, the waking up at night, keeping track of timings etc. does wear you down (especially if you are a dormouse who gets seriously cross if she doesn’t get enough sleep, which I happen to be).
But I have persevered, partly because it appears I have been starved off the sporting beauty crack that is gymnastics for too long. The big reason we don’t have cable anymore is that cable channels, going against what one might argue is the whole point of them, never really show the stuff you really want to watch except in odd spurts and when it comes to sports, sports channels almost never show gymnastics.
I watched the US women’s team pick up their team gold and wow that was amazing. They really really pulled together one flawless, consistent performance. You can watch the highlights here. Just before this there had been heartbreak because Jordyn Wieber, the world champion who had been expected to basically nail the individual finals, was superseded unexpectedly by her teammate Alexandra Raisman. Wieber pulled it together though and delivered for her team in the group final which is really what the Olympics is about.
My highlight of that round was McKayla Maroney’s amazing Amanar vault. Her choice on the team was controversial because unlike the others who would perform on different apparatuses, Maroney would just do one – the vault. But she proved her worth and knew it after her jump, doing a little victorious strut coming off her landing. Her score – 16.233 – the highest of any of the other gymnasts in that contest on any apparatus.
The US team’s closest competitors were the Russians and they somehow lost it at the end. The US team’s last rotation was floor and as Gabrielle Douglas (who did an amazingly solid performance on the beam) said: “You can’t fall on floor.” Except two of the Russian women did! They were understandably shattered. The Russians tend to be impassive during the competition – lest they be accused of behaving like the frivolous Americans and actually chatting with each other during competition – but basically their eye is on the gold and gold only. Silver brings on the waterworks. It was also kind of disconcerting to see the Chinese not in contention for gold at all.
Why do I love gymnastics so? Because one has to be tough as shit to do it, but there is an aesthetic element so the highest points go to the gymnast who not only flawlessly executes the toughest routine but who does so while letting none of the effort show. The Guardian writer blogging about the contest mentioned more than once that to get a sense of the size of the beam, you only have to look at your iPhone, then imagine doing cartwheels on it. Ok, so I think it might be two fingers broader but that’s it.
So yeah, imagine leaping and landing on that and remember, points are deducted if you wobble when you land or touch the beam with your hand to steady yourself, leave alone the disaster (which could involve breaking something) if you fall. Thus, you have Victoria Komova in the individual finals, pushing herself for gold, jumping and arching back so that her head is actually touching her toes, then landing perfectly and well, continuing, to do other extraordinary feats. It’s breathtaking. I remember from the Beijing Olympics one Chinese athlete saying the beam is the hardest, most of them don’t really want to specialise in that apparatus.
I used to love floor and uneven bars best but now I favour the beam and the vault. Does that say something about me?
In the individual finals, Komova, had given it her all and frankly became my favourite gymnast just because of the typically Russian balletic grace of her incredibly difficult routines. The Russian champion Aliya Mustafina is apparently known for her game face, which is basically stony. I didn’t know this before but I noticed it right away. But after Komova’s gorgeous floor routine, Mustifina had her arms around her compatriot, who she just incidentally was also competing with, showing a very human side.
It takes dedication to watch the Olympics because even if you’re willing to put in the hours, the schedule is complicated. I had to literally ferret out the timings of the individual gymnastics events, because the official one seemed to say the gymnastics competition was done and dusted. And I’m so glad I did.
Last night’s vault final was a stunner. So many of them landed plop on their ass. Including McKayla Maroney the vault champion, pretty much expected to take gold. Her steel was evident after her first great Amanar vault after so many others had flopped. She wanted better and she went for it. Except she failed spectacularly. And then her steel was even more evident. It was a huge, completely unexpected blow, but she held it together, even as cameras honed in for a close-up of her despair. She held her face tight as there was a scoring glitch and everyone started congratulating the Romanian Sandra Izbasa and consoling her. When it was official that she had lost the gold, there were no public waterworks though one can only imagine what she felt. The next Olympics is four years away and for a gymnast with only one event, that’s a distant future.
The fact is that being at the top of this sport, like any other, comes at the cost of great personal sacrifice. And in gymnastics, where the competitors tend to be young (puberty brings on a lot of unwelcome changes though some rare sparks manage to stay in the game into their late 30s) and go away from home to train, there can be real dangers. Gabby Douglas, who won the gymnastics individual all-round gold, left home at 14 and her mother shared that it took a lot of convincing to let her daughter go. Gabby seems to have turned out okay but a gymnast who I had a soft corner for in the 90s, Dominique Moceaunu had a much sadder story. (Moceanu had the same coach as Nadia Comeici, Bela Karolyi, who still seems to held in high regard officially in gymnastics in the US.)
Anyway, it’s day 10 and I have to admit I’m tiring. Mainly of the completely annoying TVB-ATV coverage, which while I’m grateful that it exists, seems intent on covering anything and everything the Chinese athletes are involved in excruciating detail. Thus, while they couldn’t be bothered to show most of the medal ceremonies, they cut into the gymnastics competition time by following the admittedly awesome badminton champ around as he shook hands with various people and then stayed through the entire national anthem arrgh by which time most of the men’s gymnastics competition was over. Viewers in the US pissed at NBC and its US-focussed coverage take consolation that it seems to happen everywhere.
The badminton coverage, in general, is driving me batty. You would think this was a badminton competition, it’s on every time you switch on the TV (I saw Saina Nehwal’s final point, thankfully, as a result and I’m ashamed to say I shouted when the other girl went down: “Is she injured? Yay!”).Luckily, diving, my other favourite sport, is well covered in the highlights at least because the Chinese are sweeping the medals there.
Did I start this post with the 100m finals? I woke up for it, after very nearly messing up the timing due to my inept ability with anything involving numbers (which sadly time zones do). The latest thing seems to be for each competitor to have their own little drama routine when their name is announced, the most flamboyant of which is, of course, Usain Bolt’s. Anyway, when half the world is waking up at an inhuman hour to watch less than 10 seconds of a racing, a bit of theatrics beforehand is not unwelcome.
Bolt is always a pleasure to watch, unbridled arrogance notwithstanding. He makes the sprint which is technically over in two blinks of an eye seem like it has not just a beginning and an end but a middle too.
So yeah, 9.63 seconds and I was back in bed, awaiting Day 11.