Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Competition of the competitions

Are all gold medals equal?

What's in a name? that which we call a rose
 By any other name would smell as sweet”

...said Juliet, on the importance of names, in one of Shakespeare’s more famous works. The point is clear: name is name only, and doesn’t affect the properties of that which is gives title to.

To move away from this pretentious opener and towards something more on-topic, I had been wondering recently about podiums of all kinds in gymnastics, and the feelings of the competitors upon them who leave with the medals.

Why did I think this? I had just finished watching the 1992 Barcelona event finals (for perhaps the one hundredth time), and was specifically thinking about the beam final and one of my all time favourites, Svetlana Boginskaya. After a balance break in her EF beam exercise, a slim hope became a fools hope, and it was quickly clear that Bogi would leave her second Olympic games with no individual medals for her cabinet. This was summed up by Barry Davies:  “and Svetlana Boginskaya, down in fifth place, will leave these Olympic games without an individual medal, only the gold medal from the team competition”.

Sure, she had an Olympic gold medal: more than most ever achieve. But would she be happy with this? Is a gold medal a gold medal, regardless of its name? As with many things, people tend to have a subconscious naivety that others think the same as them: I realised I had never thought to ask how much stock other spectators hold in different competitions, and never speculated on what the gymnasts themselves think.

Personal Preference

If I was to personally rank the 3 gold medal opportunities (i.e. the three competitions taking place in world and Olympic competition) it would be in the following order of preference: 1.EF 2.AA 3.TF

Why? To me, gymnastics is first and foremost an individual sport. It is about how what gymnasts can do alone, how they perfect the skills and the personal touches they bring to their routines. It took me quite a long time to fully understand the excitement of the team competition: it was hard to get past the idea that it is just a series of individual routines falsely added together. Hence I still find it difficult to consider gymnastics as a sport of team importance because it always comes back to the individual (although this has changed increasingly with time - I have begun to appreciate the team tactics and the excitement of the team competition)

I like the AA a lot, but sometimes struggle with the idea that the winner is the best gymnast in the world, because it is consistency that always wins. I find that often the All Around champions are event specialists with boring but consistent routines on their weakest apparatus (I have discussed this opinion in more detail before, see: http://theepanel.blogspot.co.uk/2011/11/requiem-for-real-all-arounders.html ). But I appreciate the grit and determination of the individual fight, and in days gone by the AA was my standout favourite (back in a time where an AA crown took more than a mammoth bar routine and simple survival elsewhere, or something to the same effect)

For me, the best of the sport comes through in good event finals. We see top difficulty, top execution (not for vault, it must be said) and only the very best routines. Falls and mistakes take gymnasts out of the running in an instant, and there is the greatest potential for surprises, close battles and underdog victories. 


To get a sense of what other fans thought, I started a poll on the intlgymnast forum, which can still be viewed here: http://www.intlgymnast.com/forum/showthread.php?t=14587. As of the time of writing, the beautiful graphic below displays the results of this poll...

I was shocked to find that the overwhelming majority of fans prefer the Team Final, followed by the All Around, with Event Finals in last place.  Although this is not my own personal preference, I can see why people enjoy this. Some of the best moments in the history of the sport have come from Team Finals, and in a way this has softened me to Team Finals even more.

Looking to London

Perhaps bloggers say this before every Olympics, but I genuinely believe we are to be treated to one of the most exciting Olympics of All time. This is why, by competition....

TF - The USA have never seemed stronger, and their depth is now intimidating. As mentioned in several previous posts, the USA now has more confirmed Amanar’s than the rest of the world put together, and by a serious margin. This goes some way to illustrate their perceived dominance right now. However, this is not going to be a one horse race, and if they want to be the runway favourites to be the MAG5 they will have to seriously hope that Nastia and Becca can pull something fantastic out on bars. Why? Because the Russians certainly will. Besides this, the Russians did not have a single Amanar in Tokyo, nor did they have Grishina or Mustafina. With a few more higher scoring vaults and some great bars, that gap might be a whole lot smaller.

AA - The last time there were this many AA contenders, it was twelve years ago and everyone was gearing up for Sydney. As if symbolically, due to the mess that ensued, the Olympic AA competition has been paltry by comparison to 2000 ever since. But for the first time since, there is going to be competition for the top spot between more than two athletes. Sure, in Athens and Beijing there were others who could have contended, but it would have taken a fall from the top two in each case for this to happen. It is literally impossible to predict the top 3 AAers at this point, which is a different story to the last two Olympic Games.

EF - Sadly, EFs may take a hit a little at this Olympics. With tiny teams, specialists have a harder time and so we may see fewer athletes being brought for one routine for the team and one routine for EF. Some fields are looking depleted too: on vault, for instance, the probable lineup is really quite similar to Beijing. Furthermore, unless Pena cleans up that double front and takes the gold (which I think is not only improbable but would be bad for the sport - sounds mean, but that vault is scary) it may be the first time in modern gymnastics history where the OG gold medallist on vault wins with the same or less difficult two vaults as the previous OG winner (Maroney is the favourite if she makes the games, which is a huge if, and she is training a Mustafina and an Amanar).  The bars field is weaker than Beijing and will most probably be a battle between the Russians and Tweddle.

To conclude, it is interesting to hear how much stock the average gymnastics fan holds in the team competition. In a way, the TF is more relevant than ever: with such a tiny team it is clear that national coordinators will be putting the team first, followed by the AA and then the EF as an afterthought. It is unlikely that anyone will make it on the basis of one event.

Looks like a gold medal isn’t always a gold medal after all...


  1. I like TF more but it's because we get to see so many gymnasts from different countries, all arounders and specialists. We get to see Ponor on beam, then Komova on bars, then Maroney on vault and Afanasyeva on floor, Sui Lu on beam. I think you're wrong about UB finals, Mustafina, Grishina/Komova, Tweedle, of course they're major contenders and they're amazing. But don't forget the chinese, He Kexin and Huang Qiusuang are great when they hit, and I'd add Gabby Douglas in the line up as well. And who knows, maybe Nastia comes up with a big routine as well. And let's not forget Doufournet, Seitz and Tsurumi. Floor finals will be epic: Afanasyeva, Izbasa, Chelaru/Bulimar/Ponor, Grishina/Mustafina/Komova, Sui Lu, Yao, Moors, Ferrari, Mitcell, Dos Santos, amybe Cheng Fei (I hope it happens) along with whoever 2 americans qualify. And then beam: PONOR, Iordache, Sui Lu, Zeng Siqi/Tan Sixin/Yao Jinnan, Wieber/Ross, Finnegan/Bross/maybe even Douglas, maybe Nastia or Shawn along with Komova, Dementyeva/Grishina and Peng Peng Lee, the beautiful Vasiliki Millousi and maybe Presioza or Hannah Whelan. You're right about the vault but I'm startig to believe Maroney will make the team. I'd normaly agree with you about Pena winning, it would be bad for the sport, I'd agree to that but the girl is doing the PRODUNOVA, so I can't say anything negative about her. and AA will be epic, we have true all arounders this year, Girls who rock on all 4 events.

  2. Its so exciting isn't it! I literally cannot wait. Yeah I think I was maybe a bit too pessimistic about event finals - I should have put in that I don't think that about floor and beam. Floor especially is going to be amazing and crammed with talent - I bet whoever finishes 8th would be medal worthy in a different year.

    I pray Maroney makes the team, I will be really upset if she doesn't. I would also love to see Nastia do something great on bars but I am not sue how likely that is. Guess we will have to wait and see at classics in a few weeks time!

    Thanks for the comment.

    1. Yes, it is exciting and also a little cruel for the gymnasts, if everyone hits the difference between 1st and 5th in the AA could be about 0.1 - 0.2 (I can already imagine endless fights in youtube about who should have won) and I'm so excited about floor finals too, hopefully we'll have difficulty tumbling along with artistry and style, I love that. I hope Maroney will make the team as well, I think she will but even if she doesn't I'll be rooting for Izbasa to win vault (exept if Cheng gets her skills back). I'm not sure about Nastia either, I never was a huge fan of her but I like her (the gymnast Nastia, not the celebrity) and I'm really curious to see her.

  3. I think it depends on what country you are from too. For example; Americans are all about TF because they value team gold more, but countries where team gold isn't realistic may value event finals more. That goes for the people in the country as well; for example, in the UK bar finals will probably be more exciting because its where we have a more realistic chance of getting a medal. Although the UK has come leaps and bounds finishing 5th and all..

  4. If I was an elite gymnast, I'd rank the gold medals in order of importance as follows: 1) AA 2) EF 3) Team. I agree with you Lloyd that gymnastics is first and foremost an individual sport. No one gets into gymnastics and hopes to win a Team Gold medal...they want to win INDIVIDUAL gold, and most common it's the AA Title.

    Don't get me wrong, I love team competition, but if I had to choose between being a Team Gold medalist and the AA gold medalist, hands down I'd go for the AA. There's more prestige with that title, and it would be dependent on my performance alone, making it more special.