The Problem with Gymnastics

With the 2012 London Olympics approaching, I think once again about the sports I am going to follow. 

Swimming, of course, is actually quite fun.  I have such fond memories of the 4×100 relay last time around.   2008 was, as one sports writer wrote, The Year of Greatness, and this race definitely part of it. 

I also discovered track and field the last Olympics, which was far more fun to watch than I realized.

Check out video 3 in the collection above, showing Usain Bolt setting the 200 m world record at 19.30 ( I think he broke his own record again later, not sure about that.) 

There’s also the sport that I feel torn about liking.  It’s not a guilty pleasure, guilty pleasures are usually fairly innocuous.  This almost represents a moral dilemma. 

This sport is, of course, gymnastics. 

Now, I use to really like to watch gymnastics when I was young.  But every time I see it now, in the back of my mind I ask myself, “Am I, by watching gymnastics, cooperating with child abuse?” 

I realize that’s a rather inflammatory statement to make, so I should probably state what I am NOT saying when I make that statement. 

I am NOT stating that all, or even most, coaches are abusive.  I know that’s not true.  I am NOT saying that the girls who participate in the sport do not choose to do so willingly.  Of course they do, and most of them, if not all, love the sport.   I also recognize that, with the age rules, many of the gymnasts are not children, but in their early 20’s. 

But, there are things like this. 

In April 2011, Aliya Mustafina landed badly on a vault and tore her ACL. 

In August 2011, Rebecca Bross landed badly on a vault and dislocated her kneecap.  That to me is the most horrific.  I have done that myself (see A Tale of Two Pictures Part 1) and I would not wish that on my worst enemy.  I would feel sorry for LeBron James if he dislocated his kneecap.  That’s how bad it is. 

In October 2011, Alicia Sacramone tore her Achilles tendon performing a tumbling pass on the floor. 

I read about these injuries over the past few months.  I was reading about it and watching footage on Youtube, trying to decide if I could watch gymnastics without guilt.  The answer is, no, certainly not on the elite level. 

A huge part of the problem, from what I understand, is the Code of Points.  Instead of rewarding gymnasts for doing skills cleanly, the code encourages gymnasts to perform increasingly difficult skills, regardless of whether or not they can perfect them.  This results in sloppy gymnastics, that is scary to watch, rather than impressive.  Needless to say, this also increases the risk of injuries, including the horrific ones that I mentioned.   

Yet, gymnastics is still fun to watch.  So, what do I do? 

So far, I’ve resolved to only watch gymnastics on Youtube.  This gives me the chance to read ahead of time about the meet, and make sure I won’t have to watch any kind of horrific injury.  But I will certainly not watch the Olympic Gymnastics meet live.  I’m too scared. 

You hear that FIG?  I’m too scared to watch the sport live!  Now fix it!

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