Women’s Gymnastics. Every Olympics, it’s one of the most covered events in the summer games. But few journalists and sports analysts really go behind the scenes to get the hidden truths. Luckily, Dear Readers, you have me.
Today, Wednesday in Beijing, was the day our morning was scheduled with the Women’s Team Gymnastics Finals. I panicked when I saw that it was listed as “Artistic Gymnastics” on my tickets. Could it be I was going to see the only event stranger than Synchronized Swimming? You know, the event where they dance around with ribbons and hoops and twirl batons. However, it turned out to be the event where the teams rotate through four events: Balance Beam, Vault, Parallel Bars and Floor Exercises. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first order of business was to provide the service I always perform when I blog on my travels: a complete, unvarnished and comprehensive Restroom Report. Yes, it’s a dirty job, few journalist will tackle it, but my readers demand it.
Once inside the National Indoor Stadium, I circled the perimeter doing a complete check. Two years ago — I found that, when in Beijing, and, to be honest, most of Asia — bathroom logistics can be tricky. Asia consistently had the most odoriferous, frightening restrooms next to the All-Time Disgusting Restroom Champion: France. Nothing I saw in Beijing two years ago matched the shear horror of French bathrooms. Even the restrooms at the Louvre were so foul, they could give you a life-threatening disease just to think about using them. I’ve been to Third World countries that had a higher standard of hygiene. But I digress. Two years ago in Beijing, your day and your sightseeing had to be carefully plotted around a route of five star hotels catering to Westerners since these were the only safe bathrooms. If you couldn’t get to one, you’d be forced to squat over a filthy hole. And pray you remembered to bring your own toilet paper.
I’m glad to say, things have changed dramatically in Beijing — at least in the Olympic venues. In addition to more restrooms than you’d find in any five US stadiums put together, the level of cleanliness at the National Indoor Stadium was right up there with the motels that put the little paper strip across your toilet. They are even giving out toilet paper which was unheard of a few short years ago. Which leaves the French safe with their title.
Now on to the Games. You’ve read the other news stories, you’ve heard the exhaustive technical explanations. But here are the awards and technical specs Bob Costa could never give you:
Scariest Looking Coach. Russia by far. She was like the junior high school girl’s gym teacher of your nightmares. All the coaches were practically standing under the gymnasts as they flipped on the parallel bars. But this bruiser looked like she was going to punch any one of her girls who didn’t come up to scratch.
Most Rhythm. Brazil. Hands down! Every one of them did their floor exercise routines to a high stepping Samba beat. If they’d had tall feathered headdresses and baskets of fruit on their heads, I’m convinced they would have won.
Music Most Out of Keeping with Nationality. France was edging in there, but I have to give it to Russia. Sorry, but if you want to do handsprings to the Theme from Exodus or Modern Jazz, move to America. Your music should reflect your nationality. (See the Brazilians above.)
Cheesiest Music. No contest: the Australians. I’ve never gone to a Celine Dion show. (Or at least, I’d never admit to it.) But they must have been doing an electronic version of one of her numbers. I know they can’t all compete to Waltzing Matilda, but what about Kylie Minogue or Olivia Newton John tunes? Okay, “Physical” is a craptacular cheeseball of an 80s song. But what better gymnastics theme? Australia: see Brazil above.
Best Music, Nationality Category. At first it seemed the Romanians would take this easily. Imagine the soundtrack to a really good Dracula movie, especially for the scene where the unsuspecting peasants are dancing. Imagine it on steroids with lots of gypsy influences. Good job Romania. But you only get the Silver. The Chinese topped you with the best jazzed up version of what sounded like a Chinese Opera or Chinese Acrobatics tune. If Tina Turner were Chinese, she would have had this music.
Worst Costumes. Australians by a mile. They had some sort of green sequiny leotards with sparkles. Then they were sporting cadmium yellow eye shadow as an accent. Fine if you are in Vegas backing up Clay Aiken. Ix-nay for the Olympics.
Worst Hair Accessories. The Chinese scooped up this award easily. Every girl had at least 15 plastic barrettes in her hair. Plus a scrunchie for good measure.
Best Fed Gymnasts. In a very positive development, most of the teams looked like they actually had a passing relationship with food, unlike the little anorexic tweeners of the Bela Karoly days. The US, Russia and Rumania all made a good showing in this category, but I had to put them in the Best Muscles Category. The Best-Fed award goes to the French. Keep eating that Brie, Ladies. You looked great!
Youngest Looking Gymnasts. I was tempted to give this to the Chinese who looked about average age twelve. Then the Japanese walked in and their median age appeared to be about nine. So Nippon takes this one.
Best Group Walk. Hands down, the Chinese. There are many transitions between equipment as the teams rotate from Parallel Bars to Mats, etc. The Australians and US girls heaved up their backpacks and strode down the path. But the little Chinese girls walked in perfect formation, hands at side, up on toes, eyes forward like little soldiers. Impressive. Made me want to go on a Long March. (Side note, this award has to be shared with ANYONE Chinese. Even the Chinese stage hands who ran in to move equipment around and bring in the awards platforms had perfected this walk.)
Equipment Most in Need of A Redesign. What up with those things the gymnasts got their chalk out of? They look like urinals. In Women’s Gymnastics? At least redesign them to look like bidets.
Least Clapped For. The crowds, while cheering loudly for their own teams, were also cheering for anyone who was doing a good job. Except for the Russians. They faced almost stony silence from the crowd. That’s what happens when you invade someplace with tanks and bombers on Opening Ceremonies Day.
Most Deserved Win. The Chinese Gold. These girls, tiny as they are, executed an almost flawless program over all four events. At one point, Andy turned to me and said, “The only way China doesn’t get Gold is if one of them breaks her leg on the next exercise and another one spits on a judge.”
See all the good pix from our first day at the Olympics, here.