“We wanted gymnastics to be treated like a normal sport”
July 7, 2016 7:52 PM   Subscribe

This August, American audiences will once again endure a time-honored sports tradition: inane, often sexist coverage of Olympic women's gymnastics. Most media outlets only cover gymnastics during the Olympics, and then they treat it more as soap opera than sport. Elspeth Reeve at The New Republic profiles "the gymternet," a network of fan-run blogs, podcasts and social media streams that treat women's gymnastics with a seriousness that the sport is often denied by mainstream American media coverage.

Reeve profiles The Gymternet (tagline: The Ultimate Gym Site. For the Ultimate Gym Nerd.) and the podcast GymCastic, on which top gymnasts and coaches often appear as guests.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious (75 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
What an awesome thing to learn today. I had never thought that maybe the reason I stopped watching gymnastics on TV is that there was so little information aside from sad family stories/brave struggles; I would love to hear sportscasters explain moves and talk about the history of the sport.

I'm so glad this exists. Thanks for posting it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:02 PM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, I couldn't stand the "little girls, dancing for gold" commentary that permeates the Olympic coverage. These women are amazing athletes who could kill you with their thigh muscles, not ballerina dolls.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:12 PM on July 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


Women's gymnastics and figure skating coverage is the creepiest, even before you remember that a lot of them are not adults.

I strongly recommend anyone in the US to do whatever they can to find an alternative to NBC's smarmy bullshit, especially the prime time broadcasts.
posted by clorox at 8:22 PM on July 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


American audiences will once again endure a time-honored sports tradition: inane, often sexist coverage of Olympic women's gymnastics.

There is a deep history of how the public perception of American Olympic gymnastics has been formed -- and figure skating for the Winter Olympics -- that is tied specifically to NBC's coverage model, a time-delayed, Vaseline-lensed and over-produced format that they persist in using even though every cycle puts it further out of step with what people want from sporting coverage, and as the IOC loses further control over what gets shown in every geofenced locale. It's part Cold War leftovers, part prime-time ad sales. The BBC has its own quirks, but it's not lecherous.
posted by holgate at 8:35 PM on July 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


All sports are treated like soap operas. I watch F1 and it's all about who hates who and how much drama it produces. I'm sure every sport is similar.
posted by joelf at 8:36 PM on July 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'd be really surprised if anyone ever compared an F1 driver getting injured right before a big race to a bride tearing her wedding gown the day before her wedding. US gymnastics coverage is a whole other universe of awful, although NBC Olympic coverage in general is pretty bad.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:40 PM on July 7, 2016 [29 favorites]


hah, I guess not. but they do get compared to babies, and one is eluded to as a drunk.
posted by joelf at 8:49 PM on July 7, 2016


The big question -- and I'm not sure if the TNR piece quite got there -- is whether this fan-run online presence, particularly podcast interviews, is changing how female gymnasts and their coaches treat NBC during the Olympics and its immediate run-up. Are they more willing to push back at some of the worst framing, or do they ruefully accept that this is what gives them their biggest spotlight every four years? Lauren Hopkins is going to be working with NBC's digital team as a researcher, but how much of her blogging ethos is going to make its way onto the prime time broadcasts?
posted by holgate at 8:55 PM on July 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


NBC's skating coverage is so inexpressibly improved by Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who talk a lot more about the technical aspects of the skating and analyze likely judge reaction, while maintaining Scott Hamilton-esque excitement at big jumps and goofing around with fashion. Terry Gannon, the senior sportscaster, provides them a frame and a platform and voices the layman's questions, and otherwise wisely stays the hell out of the way and lets them be interesting.

I'm hoping NBC's gymnastics coverage switches to a younger, fresher commentary team before too much longer that brings similar improvements at least to the commentary during the event (if not necessarily the surrounding packaging).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:11 PM on July 7, 2016 [35 favorites]


Olympics coverage in general is pretty poor, with way to much emphasis put on meta narrative. But the women's gymnastics coverage as been awful going back to Nadia Commenici.

Do they even cover male gymnastics? Those guys are rippppppped.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 9:31 PM on July 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


I just can't wait for hours and hours of smilin', smarmy, self-important Bob Costas. That's why people watch the Olympics, to see what he thinks.

Many sports broadcasts are bad, but NBC takes it to that extra level of shit that nobody else can touch.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 9:38 PM on July 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


Olympic gymnastics is not an objective sport (fastest, highest, farthest, etc).

The judges set the standards and pick the winners by scoring according to those standards.

The judges standards have shifted to prefer younger competitors, particularly on the women's side of the sport.

I find that to be creepy. It is ephebophilia.

I'd much prefer that the standards shift so that adult female athletic prowess is preferred.

And I'd really like NBC to overhaul their damned olympics coverage entirely. Stop with the damned "packaged" back stories, show more actual, un-edited competitions, featuring more non-americans, as the competitions actually happen.
posted by yesster at 9:45 PM on July 7, 2016 [6 favorites]


They do cover men's, same broadcast team; men's gets the same Bob Costas-y triumph-of-courage narratives in the packaged pieces that NBC does for everything in the Olympics. The live announcing is still very emotions focused (who's struggling to maintain focus?) and not enough technical discussion, but without the toxic sexism piece. Tim Dagget did have an embarrassing meltdown during the Olympic trials when the judges and crowd liked a male gymnast that Dagget clearly wanted to die in a fire and Dagget kept attacking his work and Elfie Schlagel and Al Trautwig were trying to get him to back off without directly contradicting him on air and it was among the most awkward two minutes of sports broadcasting I have ever seen and it was both cringeworthy and hilarious.

I feel like the men's gets short shrift to a degree because there are more events (six instead of four) and they draw much lower ratings. You often have to go look up coverage of routines on the pommel horse and parallel bars in particular, while high bar and floor (being flippy and analogous to women's events) get aired even when dull or from non-competitive men.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:45 PM on July 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


They could put the back stories on the internet, and leave the broadcast time available for actual athletic competition.
posted by yesster at 9:49 PM on July 7, 2016 [9 favorites]


I'm hoping NBC's gymnastics coverage switches to a younger, fresher commentary team before too much longer

Are there equivalents to Weir and Lipinski making the transition from competition into media? It seems like that'd be a harder transition, given how top female gymnasts' careers typically don't extend far into their twenties and their next step after retirement is often college.

Oh, I'll answer myself: it looks like Nastia Liukin is on board for 2016, so let's see how she's treated.

(The BBC has Matt Baker, who was a junior champion, and brings some of that knowledge as well as his general broadcasting skills.)
posted by holgate at 10:31 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't watch American coverage of any sporting event. Non-US coverage is the one thing I will go to great lengths to acquire on the internet.
posted by fshgrl at 10:36 PM on July 7, 2016 [5 favorites]


They could put the back stories on the internet, and leave the broadcast time available for actual athletic competition.

Yeah, but Proctor & Gamble doesn't pay good money for NBC to give air time to middle-of-the-pack Peruvians and Romanians that aren't in their sponsorship stable. NBC's Olympics aren't about athletics, they're about promoting the name and face of the people in the soap ads.
posted by clorox at 10:48 PM on July 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


they're about promoting the name and face of the people in the soap ads. / posted by clorox

eponysterical
posted by holgate at 10:50 PM on July 7, 2016 [12 favorites]


Swimming coverage is usually pretty decent. They have Rowdy Gaines who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and pretty silly, and Dan Hicks who is just as smart if slightly more subdued. I can't remember them saying gross things about women. I think swimming does luck out in that the races are interleaved, so you don't just get one gender at a time.
posted by dame at 11:42 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


"They could put the back stories on the internet, and leave the broadcast time available for actual athletic competition."

More likely to be the other way around. The actual sports are at weird hours and often overlapping with each other. The backstories are evergreen and just need a bit of clip sauce to serve.

"I can't watch American coverage of any sporting event. Non-US coverage is the one thing I will go to great lengths to acquire on the internet."

One of the few regrettable trade-offs in moving to LA from my side of Michigan is that you get CBC coverage of the Olympics there, and here we're too far from Mexico to get their live broadcast.
posted by klangklangston at 11:48 PM on July 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


More likely to be the other way around. The actual sports are at weird hours and often overlapping with each other.

You know, if they did this, without all the "you must login to your cable provider" bullshit, just straight-up streams of every sport, every participant.

I would watch it. I wouldn't even insist it be commercial-free, I'd watch the soap ads, the home improvement ads, the cars ads, whatever.
Just show me the actual competition.

Hell, I'd pay a significant premium if it were guaranteed to be Costas-free.
posted by madajb at 12:00 AM on July 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


The actual sports are at weird hours and often overlapping with each other.
Rio is two hours ahead of Eastern time, which seems to be just about perfect from a broadcast point of view: You have a whole day's worth of stuff to edit and condense for the start of the primetime show, with events in progress (no social media lag!), and the last events of each day will wrap up about and hour or so before the 11 PM local news.
posted by clorox at 12:09 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


NBC has been grooming Nastia for quite a while now. Sadly, they've shitcanned Elfi, and kept Andrea Joyce. And that stupid fucking red/yellow/green triangle deduction meter thing.
I'm hoping for some internet streaming of each apparatus like London, that was pretty great. Otherwise it's gonna be all floor and beam, all the time.
of course, the sport hasn't been the same since the IOC did away with compulsories, and the changes to the code of points in the last 16 years are bonkers.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:21 AM on July 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Do they even cover male gymnastics? Those guys are rippppppped.

I am a serious men's gymnastics fan, and one of my running jokes with gay male friends is how sad it is that male gymnasts can't afford shirts. The only thing sadder is the divers, who can barely scrape together the pennies for a tiny scrap of cloth to cover their loins.

Here is a brand-new GQ photoshoot with Paul Ruggeri, one of my favorites who, sadly, went to pieces during the Olympic Trials and didn't make the team, even as an alternate. Here is his high bar routine from Day 2 of the 2016 National Championships, where he scored a 16.0, which is a very high score and was the single highest routine score of the championships.

I've mentioned Danell Leyva here before. He is a Cuban-American who is one of the most-decorated US male gymnasts. He won bronze in the all-around at the 2012 Olympics, and is a former parallel bars world champion. At his best, he is extraordinary. Olympic team berths for men are decided in part by a combined score from two nights of competition at the national championships, and two nights of competition at the Olympic Trials. Leyva was badly bitten trying to break up a dog fight, and competed nationals while injured, to disastrous effect. He is an alternate on the Rio Olympic team.

He's also a lovely human being. During the 2012 Olympics, an underwear-only selfie he sent to someone he was dating got leaked. Asked if he found this embarrassing, he answered that he saw no reason to be embarrassed by something that literally almost everyone had done, and that he was only surprised he hadn't been approached to endorse underwear, because he thought that was an opportunity somebody missed. Asked once if it bothered him that women's gymnastics got more coverage than men's, he replied that the women deserved the attention they got, and that maybe if the US men's team were more successful internationally, they'd deserve more attention, too. Here is a video he recorded after the Orlando shootings. He also attended Miami Pride this year, where he took a lot of shirtless photos with gay men. He let them hold his Olympic medal.

His coach and step-dad Yin Alvarez is a legend in his own way. He is a very loving and extremely expressive man. He has a whole little pre-routine ritual he does that includes clapping and crossing himself, he always kisses Danell after a routine, and he goes so nuts when Danell does well that he has actually injured himself. This is one of Leyva's high bar routines from the Olympic Trials, where he did gorgeous gymnastics. The camera has a good view of Yin going nuts on the sideline as well.

The NBC narratives you are going to hear about the five men on the team:

Sam Mikulak. He is the face of US Men's Gymnastics, and has been the US Champion four years in a row. He terrifies gymnastics fans because he is very inconsistent in competition. He nearly always falls on at least one event, but his difficulty levels are so high that when he inevitably surges back on Day 2, he wins anyway. This will not fly in international competition. If you hear him or anybody else saying that he is likely to medal in the all-around, they're whistling past the graveyard. He could do it if he could put up six of his best routines in one competition. He can never put up six of his best routines in one competition.

John Orozco is from the Bronx. Did you hear that? He's from the Bronx. Where is John Orozco from, again? The Bronx. Did he grow up affluent? My goodness, no. His father works in sanitation. Did anything bad happen to him ever? Funny you should ask. He fell off the pommel in the 2012 Olympics; he's torn his achilles tendon twice, including once so recently that he should still be recovering; and his mother died suddenly earlier this year. If you take a drink every time Tim Daggett uses the word "Redemption" w/r/t Orozco, you will be too drunk to watch the end of the meet.

Chris Brooks: Has spent his career as not-quite-the-best gymnast. He hasn't finished lower than fifth at a national championship in years, but tends to end up behind Leyva, Mikulak, and Orozco. My son and I went to see the 2015 national championships, where so many gymnasts fell that the gymternet dubbed it "Splatfest '15," and you could pretty much see the moment when Brooks looked around and realized that he could medal if he put up solid routines. And then he did so.

Nobody thought much of Brooks' chances this year. And then he showed up at Nationals and did amazing gymnastics. Jonathan Horton, also a long-time national team member, 2012 and 2008 Olympian, and Brooks' best friend, tweeted on night one of the competition that he hadn't thought Brooks had it in him. Brooks went on to hit 24 out of 24 of his routines at Nationals and Trials, the only gymnast to do so, and was named to the team. At 29, he was going to be the oldest-ever first-time Olympian until some other guy who is even older qualified a few days later in some other sport. I can't remember which one.

Brooks has been training and competing this past year with a bit of bone in his shoulder that needs surgery. He decided to put off the surgery until after the Olympics, so he's working through a lot of pain. In 2004, Brooks experienced something that I, as the mother of an 8-year-old gymnast who just got his first grips yesterday wish I had never heard of: grip-lock, in which a gymnast's grip catches on the high bar, bringing his rotation to a sudden halt. It shattered and splintered the bones in his arm. I am amazed he ever had the courage to get back up there, but then Sam Mikulak broke both his ankles on an under-rotated tumbling element on floor, and that didn't stop him.

Jake Dalton! Danell Leyva says he has the prettiest eyes of any of the gymnasts, and he does. He is also famous for his beautiful form. He is a very solid and consistent gymnast capable of beautiful things. He was also out during part of this past year with an injury—he, Mikulak, and Orozco all missed Worlds last fall with injuries. My favorite Jake Dalton moment is his floor exercise at the 2014 World Championships in Nanning, China. The team needed a good score if they were to get a team medal, and he put up a beautiful routine and scored a 15.9. A little over a minute into this video, you can see the rest of the team start jumping up and down excitedly as they realize he's going to do it. At that championship, the US men took bronze behind China and Japan, which was a terrific outcome for them.

Let's see...Sam, John, Jake, Chris and... right, Alex Naddour. Naddour is a pommel horse specialist, which is a hell of a thing in a sport where, as University of Michigan gymnast Stacey Ervin once said, "Everybody hates pommel horse." Naddour is the US Men's team's best hope of good score on pommel. Here he is at the Olympic Trials.

I will now shut up and will not tell you any more about men's gymnastics...although I obviously could.

Two things:

NBC says they will be streaming every single second of every event at the Olympics. There is often much better commentary for gymnastics that is streamed rather than shown on TV. So, preliminaries, Day 1 of the men's events, and so on. For these kinds of things, they'll put a couple of retired gymnasts on microphones and you'll get a lot of technical commentary. You'll also get to see more routines in lieu of watching Sam Mikulak drink water on the sidelines for 50 seconds. At least, this is how it usually is, and I hope it's like this for the Olympics, because I live for these second-tier events and their good commentary.

Finally, I will now share with you a gymnternet in-joke: At the 2014 World Championships, which Simone Biles won because she is possibly the best female gymnast ever (the best male gymnast ever is Kohei Uchimura, who hasn't lost an all-around since something like 2007). There was a bee in her bouquet on the podium. I give you: The Nanning Bee.
posted by not that girl at 12:51 AM on July 8, 2016 [97 favorites]


If I may, back in 2014 I wrote a blog post entitled, "Why Gymnastics Will Never Be a Popular Spectator Sport." I should have specified men's; the women do only four apparatuses, and their meets are relatively short.

You may or may not be aware that Olympic gymnastics teams used to have seven members. Then that was reduced to five. Beginning in 2020, they will have only four members. Part of the reason is to make the meets more television-friendly by making them shorter.
posted by not that girl at 1:07 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm hoping NBC's gymnastics coverage switches to a younger, fresher commentary team before too much longer that brings similar improvements at least to the commentary during the event (if not necessarily the surrounding packaging).

I'm pretty sure NBC gymnastics commentators are appointed for life, like Supreme Court justices.
posted by not that girl at 1:20 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


not that girl: "I'm pretty sure NBC gymnastics commentators are appointed for life, like Supreme Court justices."

On the mere basis of three comments here, I think NBC should just up and hire you.
posted by chavenet at 1:37 AM on July 8, 2016 [34 favorites]


You'll also get to see more routines in lieu of watching Sam Mikulak drink water on the sidelines for 50 seconds. At least, this is how it usually is, and I hope it's like this for the Olympics, because I live for these second-tier events and their good commentary.
I believe the online streams are usually just the main OBS competition feeds, directed by OBS, with commentary in your language added on top. The TV broadcasts that focus so much on USA athletes are partly directed by NBC itself, using a combination of the main feed and feeds straight from the OBS cameras (as IIRC only the host nation broadcaster is allowed to bring their own cameras into competition venues, everyone else has to use whatever OBS provides).

And that stupid fucking red/yellow/green triangle deduction meter thing.
OBS is also the one that produces on-screen graphics during competition, so if it shows up at the Olympics it's either OBS's fault or it's FIG's fault.
posted by clorox at 1:49 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


The judges set the standards and pick the winners by scoring according to those standards. The judges standards have shifted to prefer younger competitors, particularly on the women's side of the sport. I find that to be creepy. It is ephebophilia. I'd much prefer that the standards shift so that adult female athletic prowess is preferred.

I think it's not just the standards - it's the different choice of exercise for women compared to men. I notice that the Wikipedia entry on gymnastics says that in the USSR in the 1950s, women trained on the parallel bars and rings, both exercises which emphasise strength. If they added one strength-focused exercise to all the grace-and-agility exercises for women, they would immediately shift peak gymnastic form from the 16-18 age group to twentysomething women.

I was struck by this many years ago seeing a neighbour's daughter taking part in a secondary school gym display - she was easily the most impressive gymnast to the audience. But she was quite heavily built and muscular, and the overall impression of her routine was of power rather than grace, so with competition judges she would get nowhere. I thought it was such a pity that girls like her have no chance in a sport which should have room for them.
posted by Azara at 2:36 AM on July 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


Seeing as they've morphed Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent from obstacle course and talent show, respectively, to full on "OMG! Overcoming adversity! Cue the sad piano!" shows, I have every expectation of turning off the Olympics after five minutes and just checking the results online.
posted by dances with hamsters at 4:49 AM on July 8, 2016


Just show me the actual competition.

Hell, I'd pay a significant premium if it were guaranteed to be Costas-free.


How much of a premium? If you can get yourself to China during the Olympics, you can see every event. No English subtitles, but no Bob Costas, either.


WRT the question of whether the coaches push back on NBC's framing, my observations of one guy's behavior tells me he eats it up. My daughter trains in his gym, which is home to some recent medalists, and his behavior is strikingly different when he's on camera at the Olympics, compared to how he acts in the gym. He always hugs his athletes after an Olympic routine and sometimes smiles, but he never does those things in the gym.


Do not demean the strength of the women gymnasts. It takes real power to perform those grace-and-agility moves. That they don't compete on the same apparatus as the men is definitely because of misogyny, not because they couldn't handle it. Even without the rings and parallel bars, elite women gymnasts are very heavily muscled.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:57 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


During the last Olympics, I lived way out in the woods without cable, and had no way to watch American Olympics coverage. So I bought a month of TunnelBear (VPN) (after consulting Ask!) and watched Canadian and British coverage. OMG WHAT A DIFFERENT WORLD. The coverage was smart, and funny, and interesting. One day during the Olympics I was at a friend's house and caught some of the American coverage and it really underlined how vapid and content-free it is.

I highly recommend finding a way to watch other countries' coverage, it really is a significant improvement over NBC.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:38 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


The judges standards have shifted to prefer younger competitors, particularly on the women's side of the sport.

Isn't part of that physics? As the routines have gotten really really technical, being smaller just means you're able to do the insane stuff that's now expected.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:45 AM on July 8, 2016


I can't watch women's gymnastics because of all the pseudo "dance" movements. Compare the men's floor to women's. No cutesy dance and music, the men are not being judged on their personality. What if a woman athlete is amazing at the sport but unable or willing to perform femininity to the arbitrary standards set for them? I feel like all that is in there in order to place these athletes firmly in the female category. Don't be intimidated by these girls, look we make them dance!
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 6:55 AM on July 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


it really underlined how vapid and content-free it is

For real. I grew up near the US/Canada border and have been totally spoiled by CBC. I was living in New Zealand for the Beijing Olympics and their coverage was fantastic as well. And then I was unemployed during the London games and became sort of nocturnal...NBC actually had a lot of live events on with sport-specific commentators (of course this was in the middle of the night on the American east coast, they edited it around the sob stories for prime time). Without that time difference, though, my expectations are pretty low after watching some of the track trials. Sometimes they don't even mention the names of all of the athletes in a particular race. Just the ones with the sob stories and the likely winners. It's almost rude.

They should really replace Bob Costas with Mary Carillo.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:07 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


If there was a sizable market who actually wanted to watch gymnastics, I'm pretty sure some cable company would already be covering it.

There are cable companies that cover these sports. Universal Sports, for one, doesn't just, like, cease to exist during non-olympic years. Just because you haven't sought it out doesn't mean it doesn't exist.
posted by everybody had matching towels at 7:13 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


If anyone wants a taste of proper coverage, here's the entire 2012 Olympics Women's Artistic Gymnastics team finals from the fantastic Olympics Youtube channel. Action starts about 8 minutes in.
posted by clorox at 7:26 AM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]



I can't watch women's gymnastics because of all the pseudo "dance" movements. Compare the men's floor to women's. No cutesy dance and music, the men are not being judged on their personality.

There's nothing wrong with dance, and I don't find it "cutesy."
posted by zutalors! at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Part of NBCUniversal's Olympics deal is that they agree to broadcast world championships and other major competitions for less-popular Olympic sports at other times in the four-year cycle. Most of them end up on Universal Sports, generally just as rebroadcast world feeds. Some with a broader audience (like the US gymnastics and swimming trials) end up on the main network with actual NBC production, in part because that allows the full Olympic production team to test its OB units on home soil and run through the protocols that'll be used at the IBC. So they're trials for the broadcaster as well.

(I know someone who's a contract video editor and has done several Olympics for NBC. I hate the network's approach, but their technical staff are incredible.)
posted by holgate at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2016


More likely to be the other way around. The actual sports are at weird hours and often overlapping with each other.

For the 2012 Olympics CBC had all the raw feeds available to watch online sans any commentary. Watching hours upon hours of raw sports footage was both weird and awesome at the same time.
posted by howling fantods at 8:02 AM on July 8, 2016


For the 2012 Olympics CBC had all the raw feeds available to watch online sans any commentary. Watching hours upon hours of raw sports footage was both weird and awesome at the same time.

When that happened, I violently shook my computer and shouted COMMENTARY!!! PLEASE!! WHICH MUSCLE ON THAT WEIGHTLIFTER GOT INJURED?? I'M SURE THERE'S SOMEONE OUT THERE IN THE WORLD COMMENTING ON THIS IN ENGLISH!! HOW HARD IS IT TO CONNECT?! PLEASE!!
posted by Melismata at 8:11 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with dance, and I don't find it "cutesy."

There's nothing wrong with dance. There's nothing wrong with a lot of the things that women do that are considered "feminine". The issue is that there is a double-standard, that women are expected to do the things that are considered "feminine."

The male and female sports are far more different than can be explained by physical differences.

This reminds me of a discussion several years ago about a school who closed some of its girls' team sports, but said it was okay because the girls could still try out for cheerleading. It was very hard to have a discussion about why that decision was sexist, because people really wanted to defend cheerleading. But you can think cheerleading's a valid sport while also thinking the unequal pressure for women's sports to have this performative/entertainment/feminine aspect is bullshit.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:17 AM on July 8, 2016 [13 favorites]


The artistry and dance rules are a part of the sport. Suggesting women's artistic gymnastics should change to be more like men's seems more sexist to me than rules about presentation and dance elements. If I want straight up tumbling, there is a different gymnastics discipline I can watch to see that.
posted by missmerrymack at 8:29 AM on July 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Agreed, missmerrymack. I'm guessing there are a lot of guys who would prefer not to do the balance beam.
posted by Melismata at 8:33 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Correct me if I am wrong, (who am I kidding, this is MeFi, you'll pile on), but isn't part of the reason why men's events are so different is that the male "center of gravity" is half a foot higher?
posted by Ber at 8:59 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, Ber, due to childbearing and all that.

Saying that men and women should do all the same events is like saying "well, sure, we could play professional basketball with shorter people, but since taller people exist, we're going to go that way."
posted by Melismata at 9:05 AM on July 8, 2016


But you can think cheerleading's a valid sport while also thinking the unequal pressure for women's sports to have this performative/entertainment/feminine aspect is bullshit.


*clap*

I TRANSFERRED FROM LOS ANGELES / YOUR SCHOOL HAS NO GYMNASTICS TEAM / THIS IS A LAST RESORT!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:11 AM on July 8, 2016 [20 favorites]


Swimming coverage is usually pretty decent. They have Rowdy Gaines who is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and pretty silly, and Dan Hicks who is just as smart if slightly more subdued. I can't remember them saying gross things about women.

I really like the swimming coverage by these two guys. I loved seeing the two of them get so excited about the dominance of Katie Ledecky during the Olympic Trials. And in fact, far from being gross, one of the best things I saw was Gaines going on a rant about how stupid it was that women aren't allowed to compete in the 1500 m distance like men do (the longest for women in the Olympics is, I think, 800 m). "They have a women's marathon in the Olympics, not a half marathon!" was his analogy. They also did a nice job of, for instance, breaking down the mechanics of how Missy Franklin was struggling with her turns when she's so dominant in the middle of the pool. I love seeing experts being smart about stuff.

I've been watching waaaaay too much of the US Trials in various sports, and I love it all. Unfortunately, the gymnastics commentators are indeed some of the worst. Honestly, I wish they would just retire Al Trautwig, who is my least favorite of all time. Nastia Liukin had a bit of a rough start the first few times I saw her - barely speaking unless invited to comment on a specific skill - but she's definitely picked up her game recently and I think she'll do a good job now that she's more comfortable. I still have a soft spot for Tim Daggett even though I hate his, "Oooooh, that was a mistake!" breathlessness, just because he's so knowledgeable about the sport and clearly cares a lot about it.

And if you're interested in seeing former athletes as commentators...watch college gymnastics! Amanda Borden has turned into one of my absolute favorites. (The only thing I would change about her is something that Daggett also does: say "heighth" instead of "height". Such a small thing, but it drives me absolutely crazy to hear them talk about the "heighth" someone got off the vault.) Probably my least favorite is Kelly Garrison-Funderburk, who does the Oklahoma meets. (I'm sorry, I'm sure she's a very nice person, but wow is she irritating to listen to.)

And now I'm off to listen to the dulcet tones of Phil Liggett call the Tour de France.
posted by Salieri at 9:37 AM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


And oops, I forgot one more thing:

He could do it if he could put up six of his best routines in one competition. He can never put up six of his best routines in one competition.

Oh man, poor Sam Mikulak. I love watching him because when he's on he's soooo good, but he seems incapable of going clean on all his routines in a single meet. In fact, going by recent history, I think the best possible outcome for him is to have his inevitable fall or break early on, get mad about it, and then kick ass for the rest of the competition.

I also really like how positive and enthusiastic he is about cheering on the other guys, even when it's an individual competition. There's a lot of mutual respect out there among the athletes, and it's great to see.

On both the men's and women's sides, its really nice to see some (relatively) older athletes kicking ass who might have been written off - like Chris Brooks and Aly Raisman. This sport takes such a toll on their bodies that I have massive respect for anyone who can survive the mental and physical aspects of the training and stay competitive over multiple cycles.
posted by Salieri at 9:49 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


The USOTC in Colorado has an athlete career & education program, which has classes and placement opportunities for Olympic (and Paralympic) athletes. Like, when you see all those folks working flexible schedules with UPS so they can also train for obscure sports, that's a result of a partnership through that program to place athletes. So, another part of that program is helping athletes build skills necessary to get into sports marketing, sports broadcasting, coaching, college fundraising, and other sort of sports-adjacent careers after they retire from competition. A lot of these younger ex-athlete announcers have been coming up through that system (rather than through happenstance like the last generation), and I think some of the improvement in commentary in more obscure sports can probably be traced to their participation in the USOC training classes which turn out TV-ready commentators but ones who are also super well-educated in the sports and have a lot of substantive things to say and know how to say those things for TV announcing. Like, rather than taking their cues from NBC, they're coming in with their own ideas about how to do commentary -- and they're TV-compliant and TV-ready so there's nothing for NBC to beef about, but they've got more comprehensive training than "you just do some of the color commentary and say some feel good stuff" from the network.

(They also do language classes for the teams and have classes on social media, marketing, endorsements, and that kind of thing. They've done a nice job providing athletes a lot more resources for navigating the increased publicity and celebrity and media coverage, as well as the increasingly complex rules from the IOC.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:00 AM on July 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Americans: Despite the wall we might have to build along our shared border in a few months, you can access our sweet socialist sports broadcasting via DNS/VPN services for a small monthly fee. Think of it like the Canada Taster Menu.
posted by Kreiger at 11:58 AM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


The artistry and dance rules are a part of the sport.

No one has said that they're not. But sports--including who plays what sports, how those sports are played, and which of those sports become popular--do not exist in some kind of cultural vacuum.

Saying that it's just the rules of sport does nothing to address the criticism, which is that there's a double standard. So what if it's explicitly codified in the rules? Does that make it better?

And if your objection to the criticism is that it devalues the artistic aspects of the sport, it's rather easy to turn it around and point out that while women are expected to put on this kind of show, men are being denied the opportunity to.

Saying that men and women should do all the same events is like saying "well, sure, we could play professional basketball with shorter people, but since taller people exist, we're going to go that way."

Has anyone on this thread said that the events should be identical? Because the discussion has been about the required inclusion of "artistic" elements in women's events. Physical differences don't make women put on elaborate costumes and makeup; our childbearing hips don't collapse if we wear a costume without sparkles, and my ovaries do not compel me to smile and perform dance moves whenever I do a sport (though, this does seem like it would be fun).
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 12:29 PM on July 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Anyone else planning to watch the US Olympic trials on NBC tonight? I feel like this may call for a drinking game.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:37 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Anyone else planning to watch the US Olympic trials on NBC tonight? I feel like this may call for a drinking game.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:37 PM on July 8 [1 favorite +] [!]


I'm up for it. What are the rules?

I do have to open the shop tomorrow, but I'm up for some fun tonight.

(Women's 1500 meter running on a freshly-rained on (clay?) track at the moment. At least the track commentators don't talk about the clothes).
posted by yesster at 5:07 PM on July 8, 2016


Hmmm. How about:

*drink once for mention of tragic backstory

*drink twice for attempt to make ordinary life challenge into tragic backstory.

*drink once anytime someone is said to be seeking redemption for a past fuck-up, fall, etc.

*chug anytime a gymnast is compared to a ballerina or a doll.

*small sip anytime they mention sticking the landing. We don't want to get alcohol poisoning here.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Hmm, so apparently NBC is only streaming to people who have a cable subscription, so I guess I'm not watching it. Oh well.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:55 PM on July 8, 2016


Cannot get over how Aly Raisman has not only stuck around for four years but has gotten BETTER.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:31 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


he judges standards have shifted to prefer younger competitors, particularly on the women's side of the sport.

The women have actually gotten older and stronger under the new-ish scoring system, which has no cap on the difficulty of the skills they do. Anybody who's curious might like Dvora Meyers' brand-new book. The End of The Perfect 10, which goes into all this stuff.

On the mere basis of three comments here, I think NBC should just up and hire you.

This is one of the nicest things anybody has ever said to me.

My 8-year-old is actually great to listen to. This past year, he was competing at a level where his coaches were teaching them the more technical aspects of the sport, and it's so much fun to watch routines with him. "That's good, good form, nice circles on the pommel there, russian, russian, good russians, his hips are piked a little but..."

I am a very curious person, so when one of my kids took up gymnastics, I went all-in on learning about it. I'm actually enjoying it. I've never followed a sport closely before, and I'm enjoying fandom.

When the women are doing the artistic/dance stuff well, it can be really lovely. I'd kind of hate to discourage it any more than it has already been, because gymnastics can be very beautiful, but on the men's side it's very much gotten to be about doing a series of high-end skills. Earlier this year, I watched the National Figure Skating championships. There was a young guy named Nathan Chen who did four quad skills in his free skate—four different skills in which he rotated four times. He's the first one who had ever done it, and people went nuts. But he skates kind of like a block of wood.

Then Adam Ripon did a beautiful skate that made me think, no kidding, of Ginger Rogers, it was so graceful. He didn't do any quad skills, but he won the championships, and some commentators thought that short-changed Nathan Chen and his four quads. I wanted to grab them by the lapels and say, "Do you want figure skating to become men's gymnastics? The on-ice equivalent of power tumbling? That's what you'll end up with if you start giving gold medals to wood blocks with a lot of quad skills!"

On both the men's and women's sides, its really nice to see some (relatively) older athletes kicking ass who might have been written off - like Chris Brooks and Aly Raisman. This sport takes such a toll on their bodies that I have massive respect for anyone who can survive the mental and physical aspects of the training and stay competitive over multiple cycles.

And Gabby Douglas, who came out of retirement last year and is going to make the Olympic team again (knock wood). I remember when she first started seriously training again, there were interviews in which she was literally asked, "How do you feel about staging a comeback given that nobody has ever staged a successful comeback?" And yet here she is.

I also really like how positive and enthusiastic he is about cheering on the other guys, even when it's an individual competition. There's a lot of mutual respect out there among the athletes, and it's great to see.

Sam Mikulak is a really, really nice guy. He is many young boys' hero, and he is very generous with his time and energy. When he was still at the University of Michigan, he came to a meet my son competed in to hand out the medals. And he really does cheer everybody on. When we visited a practice, he was one of the gymnasts who noticed us and took the time to talk to us—and my kid wasn't even competing yet, he was a 5-year-old on the "pre-team."

An interesting thing about men's gymnastics is what a small world it is, even internationally. The US men went to Brazil earlier this year for a training camp with the Brazilian team; they've also been to China and Britain for the same purpose. German gymnast Fabian Hambuchen spent time in Ann Arbor training with Michigan coach Kurt Golder, and he and Sam Mikulak had an epic bromance on twitter as Sam spent the week showing Fabian the Ann Arbor sights. At championships and Olympic trials this year, there were 18 men going up against each other for 5 team and 3 alternate spots, and they were cheering for each other during routines. There was a moment at the end of trials when Chris Brooks was holding Danell Leyva—it lasted too long to be called merely a hug—as Brooks was high as a kite on his own success and Leyva was devastated at his poor showing. I don't know how they navigate all the emotional currents, especially the ones who are living out at the OTC and rooming together. Somehow they do. You can scroll through the roster of senior and national team members and see that Chris Brooks was hardly exaggerating when he said recently, "I've been competing with these guys for decades." These gymnasts can get named to the US Junior National Team when they're as young as 12, and a lot of them do, or if not then, as teenagers. All 8 of the men going as team members or alternates were on the junior national team by the time they were 16, for instance. There's this teammate/competitor thing that I think gymnastics must have in common with other individual sports like swimming.
posted by not that girl at 7:48 PM on July 8, 2016 [17 favorites]


Here is my son in his "Team Sam" t-shirt, the preferred garb of boy gymnasts across the USA this Olympic season.
posted by not that girl at 7:51 PM on July 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


I have every expectation of turning off the Olympics after five minutes and just checking the results online.

A great way to watch sports like gymnastics is to avoid the broadcast, and then go watch the playlists later. Usually USA gymnastics puts up playlists of every single routine within hours of a competition. This isn't happening with Olympic Trials or the Olympics for any events NBC has broadcast rights to, but NBC has been putting up at least some routines on the NBC Olympics website. It is a little tedious when they make you watch a 30-second commercial before each routine, when the routine is vault and so each of them is like 8 seconds long.
posted by not that girl at 8:01 PM on July 8, 2016


I did not know about the OBS. Thank you for that, clorox.
posted by not that girl at 8:04 PM on July 8, 2016


The male and female sports are far more different than can be explained by physical differences.

The only discipline I can think of that requires an identical combination of artistry and athleticism from both men and women is dressage. I don't think the fact that it is by far the most ridiculed and least-understood event in the Olympics is unrelated to the fact that men and women compete against each other under the same rules, in very much the same uniform.
posted by GeorgeBickham at 2:20 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


As far as I know, Universal Sports was shut down last year and exists only as a website now. NBC picked up the rights to a number of sports Universal had covered, including gymnastics and skiing. Universal Sports was only available on a few satellite networks; as a Comcast customer (and gymnastics fan), I was incredibly frustrated that coverage existed and I couldn't watch it.

I connected with other gymnastics fans online in the late 1990s. I remember downloading routines over dial-up. I remember fans taking shaky hidden-camera videos at meets when taking video was banned even though there would be no coverage of the event. I remember "watching" meets via notes hastily posted to message boards. I remember USA Gymnastics taking down routines posted to YouTube even as we pleaded with them to post videos of more than the five athletes featured on the rare television broadcasts. The access we have now is amazing compared with where we started.

And it's been a pleasure to see the average age of senior gymnasts inching up. I don't pay much attention to the juniors; Nastia Liukin may have been physically ready for the Olympics in 2004, but she was a much more beautiful, complete athlete in 2008. The incredible Oksana Chusovitina will be 41 in Rio at her seventh Olympic Games.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by swerve at 7:54 AM on July 9, 2016 [3 favorites]


Here is my son in his "Team Sam" t-shirt, the preferred garb of boy gymnasts across the USA this Olympic season.

Oh, that is adorable!

And I'm really glad to hear that Sam Mikulak is legitimately the nice guy he seems to be. I don't have to personally like athletes to respect their abilities, but I really get a kick out of people who love their sport enough to be so supportive of others and give back to the younger gymnasts. I'm glad that the image I see is actually the real deal.

I think the fact that the male gymnasts tend to be older and have a longer time in the sport helps that sense of community. In particular, I wonder if the fact that so many of them are or have been college athletes helps. I love seeing the team bonding in NCAA gymnastics, on both the men's and women's sides, but in most cases the women are coming into college after their elite career is pretty much finished, whereas on the men's side the college teams can actually serve as a training ground for national teams.

The women have actually gotten older and stronger under the new-ish scoring system, which has no cap on the difficulty of the skills they do.

Yes, definitely. And as crappy as NBC's commentary can be, at least the whole "pretty princess/doll" thing is really not even on the radar. For all of their faults, they do treat these young women as serious athletes. And personally, I like seeing the slightly older/more solid gymnasts who have been coming up under the new code of points.

One nice thing is to hear an (almost) complete lack of discussion of the bodies of the athletes, which can be an especially fraught thing for younger women. Tim Daggett does occasionally discuss the differences in body type in the men who specialize in, say, rings vs. pommel horse, but thankfully there's not much on the women's side. (Aside from him mentioning Ragan Smith, who apparently is so short - even for a gymnast - that she can practically walk under the low bar without ducking.)
posted by Salieri at 9:24 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


one of the best things I saw was Gaines going on a rant about how stupid it was that women aren't allowed to compete in the 1500 m distance like men do

And the stupidest thing about it, is the women swim the 1500m (or the 1650 in yards meets) in nearly every other swim competition from the time they are kids. It is *just* the Olympics that are stupid.
posted by dame at 11:05 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


WRT the question of whether the coaches push back on NBC's framing, my observations of one guy's behavior tells me he eats it up. My daughter trains in his gym, which is home to some recent medalists, and his behavior is strikingly different when he's on camera at the Olympics, compared to how he acts in the gym. He always hugs his athletes after an Olympic routine and sometimes smiles, but he never does those things in the gym.

Kirth Gerson, isn't this an odd thing about gymnastics? The way you can have a world champion/Olympian/national team member training in the same gym at the same time with toddlers learning their first tumbling moves. I think college gymnasts and the guy at the Olympic Training Center are the only ones who get to have their own gyms.

The gym where my kid is on the team was home to a world champion & member of the Fierce Five at the 2012 Olympics. The guy who owns the gym is an a**hole, as he recently demonstrated at the end-of-year team banquet where his gymnast intros and "jokes" were a series of borderline-sexist "pretty little ladies" bs and things that got into that uncomfortable place where you're listening to someone and are getting afraid he's about to come out with something really racist.

He only coaches girls, and only the best of those, so it's a good thing my kid is a boy and has no contact with him, or I might not be willing to stay in his gym. Four hours of listening to him at the end-of-year banquet nearly had me wanting to make a break for it anyway, but the boys' team coaches are very good and my kid loves them, and our family has vowed never to attend another end-of-year banquet, so we're holding up for now.
posted by not that girl at 11:14 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


*drink twice for attempt to make ordinary life challenge into tragic backstory.

During the women's national championships, Al Trautwig described Simone Biles as having come from a "broken home." She was surrendered by her mother at birth and has been raised in a stable, loving home by her grandparents her entire life.
posted by not that girl at 11:17 AM on July 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


Al Trautwig is awful. During the 2012 Olympic gymnastics broadcast: "Look at the way Nastia can just take that slender, balletic body and... bend it." His tone is possibly worse than his words.
posted by swerve at 2:24 PM on July 9, 2016


If you're interested in an Olympic gymnastics event without makeup, music, and sequins (okay, less sequins), may I suggest Trampolining?

If you love the artistic bits and and want an even sparklier Olympic gymnastics event that makes figure skating look downright austere, may I suggest Rhythmic Gymnastics?

There's something for everyone!
posted by CatastropheWaitress at 9:15 PM on July 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


One of the downsides of the gymternet is that it is rather like getting all of your news from reading comments. People have their favorites or, worse, gymnasts they despise and the discussions can get really vicious. It is often based on politics or personalities rather than their skills. Opinions masquerade as fact and "witty" snark is generally valued above all else. These types of discussions obviously happen with other sports, but with gymnastics you have no choice but to wade through it if you want to keep up with what is going on because there is such a small amount of mainstream coverage. I am glad the message boards, podcasts and blogs exist, but it would be nice if the sport was also covered more thoroughly by sports news organizations.
posted by missmerrymack at 10:19 PM on July 9, 2016


What competitions should I catch up on on YouTube to have a vague idea of who the top gymnasts are now? I kind of stopped keeping up after 2012.
posted by poxandplague at 12:21 AM on July 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


I would watch the 2015 World Championships. Here's a link to the women's team final. A lot of these gymnasts are not in contention for Rio, but it would be a good place to start. The European Championships might be a good competition to watch next. There are a lot of videos on their channel, but you'll also find broadcast coverage that fans have uploaded if you search.
posted by missmerrymack at 10:30 AM on July 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Updated: John Orozco tore his achilles tendon in practice at training camp, and is out of the Olympics. The article where I found out about it got to the word "redemption" about five sentences in.

Danell Leyva has been named as his replacement.
posted by not that girl at 7:18 PM on July 17, 2016


I really like this New York Times interactive multimedia thingie about Simone Biles, which is for a general audience that doesn't know much about gymnastics but explains her as an athlete, rather than as a human interest story. It makes me realize that it's actually kind of rare to see gymnasts talked about that way. There's no mention of her family situation or her relationship with her coach or really anything other than "this is what makes her so amazing." It's refreshing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:42 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Folks who were in this post might be interested in the Olympics gymnastics thread on Fanfare.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:36 PM on August 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


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