I’ve been following Women’s Gymnastics since Cathy Rigby at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. Despite her high scores, it was obvious that the performances she gave were ahead of their time and made the judges uncomfortable. Rather than reward her for athleticism (she did get America’s highest scores), the judges rewarded the matronly, staid standbys of traditional Women’s gymnastics. Rigby was the best there and won nothing. Gotta love judged competitions, right?
Times change and the sport did, too. By the ‘72 Olympics the rest of the gymnastics world had joined Rigby in performing athletic routines rather than the previously winning turn, wave hands, tip over styles that had been the norm. But the judges still were questionable. This was Olga Korbut’s Olympics, anyway. Rigby was fighting injuries, too. She still managed an American best 10th place finish. Her time, though, as well as her chances, had passed. But Cathy Rigby had made Women’s gymnastics popular in the US. Job well done!
With the USA boycotting the Moscow Olympics (1980), athletes who had set their sights on 1980 were disappointed, but some then set their sights on the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. A new face became the star of US women’s gymnastics. This time, not a pixie but a cute spark-plug by the name of Mary Lou Retton.
By now athleticism was way to perform, and Retton made the most of her own, winning the All-Around title over Romanian Ecaterina Szabó, who led after the first two events. Retton became America’s Sweetheart, wound up on the Wheaties box, and inspired a generation of American girls to take up gymnastics (Their shrieks from the audience being one of the tell-tale signs that they’re there.) and become the ‘next Mary Lou Retton’.
American women were now no longer also-rans in world gymnastics, but respected competitors. But anyone who watches the competitions on the world stage knows full well that the judging remains iffy. Some would say ‘political’, and I think that’s likely. The USA remains a bogeyman to much of the world, and taking the envy and ugly hatred out on girls and young ladies is all too easy. A tenth of a point here, a tenth of a point there, and you can put the Americans in their place.
As I said at the start, I’ve been watching gymnastics for a long time. I have a good idea what to look for and where the gymnast has erred. That said, the viewer has no idea what the performer is supposed to do once they begin their event. The judges know. And they know what’s been missed, and what’s been eliminated by the performer. But when you watch the constant balance checks of a little Chinese girl, and her performance is only slightly marred with deductions, then watch an American perform with fewer bobbles but more deductions given, you have to wonder what the judges are watching. Or what political manual they’re reading.
The American women shot themselves in the foot in Beijing. Falling off the apparatus is a huge deduction, and is unthinkable in a big competition. The Olympics are the biggest competition in the world. The American women fell off in event after event. “What the hell are they doing?” That’s what I asked myself.
That they were beaten by China is no surprise. The Chinese had fewer major errors. The Chinese performed beautifully and fully deserved the gold. The American team did not deserve to win the Team Gold in Beijing. A silver was good enough. But I know I saw some very questionable judging, some curious scores, and cannot help but wonder if some sort of fix was in.
Shawn Johnson kept getting deductions. Despite performances that were usually excellent - not perfect - she was handed deductions that did not jibe with what I was watching. I saw a balance beam performance that bordered on genius. No, it was not perfect. But her score was low, and I could not believe it. And this occurred time after time.
Shawn Johnson kept on smiling, showing a maturity far beyond her 16 (a real 16, by the way, not a Chinese government 16) years, and a grasp of dealing with disappointment that more mature adults often lack. Asked about the silver medal at a big news conference, Johnson said, with that trademark smile, “I honestly think our team did great today. We are proud of each other no matter what we do. We are like a family. We respect China. We will wear our silver medals proudly.”
Shawn Johnson deserved better scores, and she may win an individual medal or two in the individual competitions, but she showed far more Olympic Spirit than the judges. She’s a champion in all but name, at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Notes: When will someone tell Jim Lampley that this is a sports competition, not a funeral? And get him out of that ridiculous suit, for crying out loud!
Tim Daggett: Try to tell us what’s going on. Tell us why the score is so low, rather than how many points the rest need to make it up. Or just shut up, please? Oh, and Elfi Schlegel ... please get to the point. Oy!
Michael Phelps is now the greatest Gold Medal Olympian in history. And he’s not through yet. He’s won five gold medals in this Olympics, with four more chances ahead. With 11 gold medals over two Olympics, he stands alone. Wow!
Hey! NBC! Enough with Beach Volleyball! Enough! Good lord! And when the Track and Field competitions begin, will you show us more discus, shot-put, and javelin, please? Or will we be punished with every heat of every distance in the running events? There’s more to Track and Field than the runners, you know.
Yeah, the opening ceremonies were impressive. Shows what you can do in a Military dictatorship, huh? What they had to do with sports, nobody knows.