Friday, August 15, 2008

Beijing Olympics: Women's Gymnastics

I stayed up till 2:30 this morning watching the Olympics.

Most of that time was spent watching the Women's All Around Final, which went till 1:15 AM, medal ceremony and all, and the last hour and fifteen minutes was spent winding down from the event, watching the late night interviews with Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin, and sneaking in a little beach volleyball in between.

I have never watched a gymnastics final from beginning to end before this year. I always either tuned in or shut off the TV halfway through the competition. I have a rather silly superstition that if I watch, the team I'm cheering for will lose. So I was a little nervous watching the finals last night, but after the first rotation, I thought, "I either watch the whole competition or I don't watch it at all."

I thought that my superstition was proving correct when I saw that the Romanian girl, Steliana Nistor, was in the lead after the first rotation, just hundredths of a point ahead of Shawn Johnson, and that Nastia Liukin was in 10th place. Instead of switching to another program, I decided to stick with the competition, thinking it would be interesting to see how Nastia was going to climb out of 10th.

I was relieved when I saw that Nastia had climbed to 2nd place after the uneven bars, but still got nervous when Shawn dropped to 5th. After two rotations, one of the Chinese girls, Yang Yilin, was at the top of the rankings.

I really do believe that the Chinese gymnasts are underage; you can tell from looking at their bodies. Yes, a gymnast's body tends to be thin, but the Chinese women had the skinniest bodies out of everyone in the competition. That, and if you have examined the evolution of women's gymnastics over the past ten years alone, you'll see that the women have gotten something they didn't have a decade ago.


I first noticed it in the American gymnasts. They looked like they had a chance to go through puberty. Their chests were developed, they were taller, and their voices sounded deeper, not as high as in previous years (think Kerri Strug in 1996 and her mouse-like voice). And then I noticed it with the rest of the competition; their bodies were more mature, too. Compare the curvy, muscular bodies of the overall competition to the thin, bony body types of the Chinese gymnasts, and you can understand why the team is under a cloud of suspicion. They look like babies compared to the other women in the field.

But back to the All-Around. My personal nail-biting moment came when the American women went on the balance beam; Alicia Sacramone's fall during team competition was still fresh in my mind. Fortunately, there was no fall, just flawless routines. Nastia had the advantage here over Shawn, with her long, slender legs and elegant lines. It was like watching ballet.

My favorite event in the All-Around is the floor routine. I love how the women can leap and twist through the air at such fantastic heights, yet manage to stick their landings. Well, most of them, anyway. I was really nervous for Shawn Johnson, because she was in bronze medal position and I was afraid she might lose it if she messed up her routine. She didn't, and secured a silver medal to Nastia's gold. The two American women had previously said that they dreamed of finishing 1-2 in the Olympics, and their dream had come true, in spades.

Now we're on to the event finals this weekend. I just hope that I don't have to stay up too late.

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