Olympics: Gymnastics is Unforgiving, But Arbitrary Rules Should Not a Champion Make!!!

Two contrasting stories, one right up my alley because of the adversity she faced and the opportunity that arose in a sport so tough (due to the discipline it takes to be a consistent solid performer); the other tears at my heart as a young lady watches her dream erased; controversially stolen from her. And not because she isn’t one of the best, but simply because of a subjective rule that waters down the field, giving others unearned opportunity to challenge for the top of the mountain.

If you haven’t guessed, story one is about USA Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman’s undeterred climb out of semi-obscurity by making it to the all-around final in London; something most thought unlikely due to the strength of other competitors on the US team, namely Jordyn Wieber and Gabby Douglas.  And story two, the exclusion of the current World All-Around Champion Wieber from the chance at winning Olympic gold for two reasons, one arbitrary and one of mistaken subjectivity ― something I am all too familiar with.

Let’s start with the good. Our U.S. Olympic girls’ gymnastics team is exceptionally strong top to bottom this year. They are touted as the “team to beat” in London. Every performer on the team is exceptionally skilled on all events, especially vault where these women can and did run away with that event. The all-around is no exception either as our top three ladies, Wieber, Douglas, and Raisman, are mere tenths of a point away from each other when they hit all four events solid.

However, gymnastics is a very unforgiving sport, one of never-ending efforts toward perfection. A simple mistake, one missed toe point or step out of bounds here, a wobble there, can cost you big time. And consistency in this sport, any sport really but this one in particular, is KING.

And so it goes, the rock solid and consistent performance (and from what I’ve read, impeccable work ethic), gave Raisman the edge Monday, when it counted the most, leapfrogging her into the limelight as our top all-around performer. A dream come true as she, unpredictably, qualified to be one of our two all-around competitors competing for the gold medal.

The excitement and joy of what she accomplished was written all over her face as she broke down in tears over the emotional experience of it all. You could feel the emotion of the moment even as an observer from miles away, it was awesome.

The same feeling of emotion could also be felt, maybe even more so, observing what had happened to reigning World all-around champ Wieber as she also broke down in tears realizing that her dream of gold had been lost. For me, it was very painful to watch.

How tough, to be so happy for your teammate in accomplishing her dream, all while knowing that that same accomplishment dashed any vision you may have had in becoming what you wanted to be―the Olympic gold medalist.

Oh sure Wieber had some minor errors in competition, and they did cost her. I have been there myself, minute errors that other more well-known competitors made, however, deductions seemed out of balance between you and them. And even worse, that indiscriminate rule that only two all-around competitors can compete from any one country for medals. Seriously…at the Olympics? Actually, anywhere where they are trying to determine who’s best? I question the mentality of it all.

As Tim Daggett discussed in his commentary, Wieber was hit pretty hard with deductions, especially on floor. I too felt the same. As a gymnast you are trained to see the slightest details, the smallest flaws. It is ingrained in gymnasts (especially at the upper levels of the sport) that you work toward erasing them from every skill in your competitive routine. Nothing goes unnoticed―nothing. So as Daggett mentioned, and I must reiterate, Wieber’s score on floor did not compute. Not even when viewed from those who are trained to look for flaws.

However, that is the nature of our sport. I have experienced it many times, seen it many more, and don’t believe that piece of the sport will ever change.

Yet the one thing that really gets to me. The part of this circumstance that angers me deeply, truly gets under my skin, is the regulation outside of Wieber’s control. A “rule” put in place by others that destroy an athlete’s well-earned opportunity. A dream killer, if I might.

I understand the thought process behind such a rule, that they want to limit dominance of a country in the all-around spreading the wealth around so to speak. But…to me, that thought process in and of itself is flawed as the whole purpose of the “Olympic finals” in any event, in any sport, is to determine the best, the ones who deserve gold, silver and bronze. How is this possible when such a rule exists?

So, if I understand the “2 person per country only” regulation, that means if Romania had the best four all-around gymnasts on the planet and the U.S. had the next three, with all of them being mere tenths of a point apart (maybe hundredths), only two from Romania and two from the U.S. could ever reach the Olympic finals, leaving three of the world’s best simply out of luck. And that makes sense???

I am certainly with Karolyi on this one. The best 24 all-around should be competing for medals in the Olympic finals, regardless of which country they are from. That is right, that is fair.

Congratulations to Aly Raisman, her parents and family, for a well-earned and deserved accomplishment. Patience, diligence, and an uncompromising work ethic and inner will have brought you what you want. What a wonderful example for our youth to follow. Great, great job; now go out there and show them what “made in the USA” really means!!!

Same congratulations go to Douglas, Maroney, and Ross. Bring it home ladies!

And Wieber, I don’t know if you will ever read this, and you are likely well aware of what I am about to say as one does not become an Olympian, nor World Champ, without a similar thought process. However, for those younger watching your story unfold let me say this, those judges, and those individuals at the International Federation of Gymnastics, they all made an enemy Sunday (at least that is the athlete’s thought process).

Make no mistake, if you want to make things “right,” and show them how much of a mistake they have all made, then it is time to come out of that corner (the one “they” put you in) swinging. A person finds out what they are truly made of not by never getting knocked down (that happens to the very best of them) but in how they get back up once they’ve been knocked down. And girl, these people, they knocked you down, and unfairly I might add.

They may have had the first round (the rules), but you can win the rest. In the end, medal or not, the best of the best proves that fact by their performance, not by what they might have to put on their shelf. At the end of the day, in any sport, awards collect dust while one’s performance RULES, and that you have complete control over.

Go get ‘em, Wieber, make it so they never forget. Yes, definitely, show them all what it really means to be “made in the USA!!!”

“Greatness, whether athletic or otherwise, doesn’t come from those content on just being but from those who seek being the difference.”

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