On the 1st Day of Christmas, Gym Santa Gave To Me…
A Brand New Code of Points!
It was a bold idea – take the “roof” off of the sport and see how high the gymnasts can fly. It sounded great to some thrill-seeking fans, but a bit terrifying for the athletes and coaches, and a bit too extreme for the traditionalists who still like to call our sport “artistic” gymnastics. We’ve now given this revolutionary venture a very fair chance over the last five years, and the conclusion at this point has to be that no code of points has ever drawn so much widespread criticism as the current “open-ended” scoring system. Even its creator, Bruno Grandi, has referred to the current code as a “time bomb” and spoke quite bluntly about the sport’s present desperate plight earlier this year. Today’s “extreme” gymnastics can certainly have its exciting moments, but its complexity and danger has overwhelmed the athletes, the coaches, the judges, and even the fans. For this Christmas, I wish we could start from scratch and make things simpler again; I wish we could shred the hundreds of pages of documents that have turned this sport into something none of us understand anymore and go back to the basics of why we all loved this sport to begin with. It’s time we stop trying to turn a beautiful, artistic sport into some “x-games” or “circus” with rules so complex they’ve managed to beat their creators, and to stop trying to drive and micro-manage a sport that does perfectly well at evolving itself.
On the 2nd Day of Christmas, Gym Santa Gave To Me…
No more 2-Per-Country Rules!
Perhaps no rule has demanded more “asterisks,” “buts,” “what-if’s,” “by-the-ways,” or “FYI’s” over the years than the perplexing two-per-country rule, which has somehow stood the test of time and continued to distort competition results for as long as most of us can remember. If three gymnasts from the same country have worked hard enough, become dominant enough, and performed well enough under pressure to sweep the medals and stand on a podium together while their nation’s flag is raised, then they absolutely should be granted that unique opportunity. If we need to increase the number of finalists in the all-around and event finals of world and Olympic competition to ensure enough countries are represented, then so be it. For this Christmas, I wish that we reinstitute common sense by allowing all gymnasts who qualify for a final to be given the opportunity to compete for medals, and that we eliminate silly practices like preventing the third highest qualifier from competing in a final simply because two of his or her teammates happened to be world class also.
On the 3rd Day of Christmas, Gym Santa Gave To Me…
3 Light Days The Week of a Meet!
I’ve always been fascinated by gymnastics competition preparation, and in particular by the dramatically different ways that men and women in this sport – and their coaches – approach the task. Traditionally, men do a little more of a tapering process, with a relatively large number of routines the week prior to competition week, and then progress toward a smaller number of routines, half-routines, “parts” of routines, and any problem areas. Most of them avoid any full routines the day before and certainly the morning of the competition; some may even take an entire day off before the meet (an almost unheard of concept on the women’s side). The morning of competition day is usually quite casual – typically highlighted by smiling, joking, some light stretching and strength exercises to get the muscles warm, and perhaps some basics or a couple of skills here and there, more to harness some of their excitement and prepare psychologically than anything else. Warm-ups just prior to the competition are slightly more serious, with the main goal being to establish confidence and “timing” of their skills, but again are usually devoid of any full routines. Often times the male gymnasts are seen swinging around the high bar or p-bars with their legs bent, simply getting their bodies loose and saving their real efforts for the actual competition. There’s a big dependence on adrenaline when the time to salute the judge arrives, and for most male gymnasts, it works. The women couldn’t be more different; in fact I’ve never known female elite gymnasts to do much of a tapering process prior to competition. Huge numbers of routines are done daily – not only during competition week, but up through competition DAY. Lots of transitions are made from soft surfaces to hard surfaces in the days just prior to competition. The morning of the competition carries a much more serious atmosphere than on the men’s side, with the smiles and jokes replaced by full routines and intense coaching and instruction. The warm-ups just prior to competition are more of the same. Many of the gymnasts will even do a full bar routine in the 30-second warm-up, just minutes before their actual competition routines! As much as I admire this type of discipline and physical fitness, one has to wonder how much this unforgiving training regimen contributes to the huge number of injuries that particularly seem to occur in female gymnasts in the final days prior to competition. For Christmas this year, I wish that all gymnasts and their coaches will choose to take three light days of training – with NO full routines and with at least one of them being a complete day off – during the week of a major competition. As we learn all too often in life, sometimes less is more. And I’d argue that just prior to a long gymnastics competition like the world championships or Olympics, it always is.
Stay tuned for Days 4-6!