I really enjoy watching gymnastics. I was born in Virginia and was enrolled at an early age in gymnastics. Had we not moved to a tiny Southern town with no gymnastics program, I probably would have continued with it for a while. I would never, ever, ever have even gotten anywhere near serious competition given my growth spurt of being one of the three tallest girls in my class, but I would have been closer to the sport.
I am just appalled at the blatant manipulation by the Japanese judge regarding the High Bar routines. Blaine Wilson, Jason Gatson, and Brett McClure had been performing a move known as the Stalder-hop-full in their routines in prior World Championships, and in those championships, it had been graded as a D difficulty. All of a sudden, two days before competition, Team USA was just notified that the move had been downgraded to a C difficulty, which meant it wouldn't have been graded as highly. In other words, routines these athletes have been practicing for over a year suddenly had to be changed just before the competition, and they've barely had two days to practice them. Wilson fell on his routine on that very changed element, injuring himself enough to put himself out of the following Pommel Horse competition.
In an interview with an NBC reporter following the competition, Wilson minced no words in mentioning Judge Koto (sp?) and mentioned words to the effect of "they feel they can't play fair . . . " Well, I tell you, I'm right there with him in agreement. When a move that's been competition worthy all year through multiple World Championships just suddenly becomes less so on a ruling made two days before the event, and that event favors the lobbying judge's country (Japan placed first, with USA second), then it doesn't take a genius to put two and two together, and it's not right to do to the athletes or the viewers.
I know the Olympics sure as sugar aren't the idealized honorable ground of fair play that the IOC PR folks like to portray. Books like Dishonored Games and Inside the Olympics have covered the seamy politics, bribery, drug scandals and powermongering that goes on behind the scenes. I don't have any illusions about that. What does bug me is when it's as blatant as the above, and nobody on the management level cries "Foul!" I hope the USA team appeals, but it will be too late to do any good for yesterday's competition.
I really hope Team USA can overcome the hurdles that have been put in their path. They've fielded a good, competitive team this year.
Giving credit where credit is due, the Japanese team performed technically strong routines, but honestly, seemed to lack the fluidity and grace that characterizes the very best performances. I think it was Hiroyuki Tomita who did an impressive sequence of release somersaults on the High Bar event. Nevertheless, the one who made them all looked like chopped liver (our guys included), was Aleksei Nemov. Even though this is almost certainly his final Olympic competition, he still puts them all to shame with sheer grace. It's no wonder he's won 12 medals in his history; he's a legendary god in the gymnastics world, and justifiably so. He didn't quite nail his landing in the qualifying rounds on the High Bar, but his routine up there, with multiple release skills . . . just the sheer smoothness of it was a pleasure to watch. Total artist. He's just fantastic.
On the women's gymnastics side, we've got some more old-timers. For Team USA, Mohini Bhardwaj is 25. For Russia, Svetlana Khorkina, also 25, and a three time world all-around champion. It will be interesting to see how they do. Despite her often melodramatic conduct, when she's on the mark, Khorkina is remarkable to watch.