Every summer Olympics, millions of gymnastic fans await the commencement of not the opening ceremonies, but the opening judge salute in the men’s and women’s qualifying competition.
This 2012 Olympics is no different, save no one expected the rules would change the face of the sport for teams and individuals in little over a day.
To begin, Jordyn Wieber was caught in the two-gymnast only web. Two athletes per country are allowed to advance to the all-around finals. Because Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman on Sunday scored higher than their teammate, Wieber, the reigning world champion, was shut out of a chance to fight for the title.
This began a storm of protest. Everyone from the U.S. fan base to Wieber’s coach, John Geddert, and Believe it or Not Ripley—Bela Karolyi had something to say.
According to ABC News, Geddert took to Facebook to lament his athlete’s fate.
“The sting of this injustice is painful and for the record I have voiced this opinion time and time again …. To penalize an athlete or country for being outstanding is not in the spirit of sport and certainly not the spirit of the Olympic Games.”
Bela Karolyi deemed it “…a travesty,” in an interview with NBC’s Al Michaels. Karolyi blames the floor exercise lineup as a major gaffe in the U.S. strategy. However, according to USA Gymnastics, the team coordinator and Karolyi's wife, Marta, had veto power over the coaches.
There is a flaw to Karolyi’s claim that, if Wieber had competed last on FX, her score would have been higher than teammate Aly Raisman. Raisman’s FX routine was cleaner, plain and simple. The "whoever goes last gets best" no longer applies in a sport where one-hundreths of a point can separate winners from losers.
Not to mention, Raisman held her own throughout the competition and earned her spot.
Just when the dust was beginning to settle, the gymnastics’ community was rocked again on Monday when, during the final rotation, Japan’s last competitor Kohei Uchimura nearly crash-landed when dismounting pommel horse.
How he landed on his feet remains a kinesiology lesson in quick-twitch muscle.
The blunder was costly for the Japanese, who were vying for silver in the team competition.
China came back with a vengeance from Day 1 to take gold with change to spare. Immediately following the competition, Great Britain would welcome a silver medal and Ukraine the bronze.
Not so fast, boys.
Japan sent an inquiry to the judges, who agreed to take a peek for whatever reason, but ultimately it was to see if they missed anything that would alter Uchimura’s score.
Using a video replay, they reviewed the routine and deemed it was worthy of a higher number. Lo and behold, Japan ripped the silver out of Great Britain’s collective hands and sent Ukraine to the locker room empty-handed.
It has yet to be explained what the judges saw in a replay situation that would alter their opinions and strip two countries of medals. Isn’t gymnastics judging based on a live human experience?
What are fans to make of all this?
Gymnastics isn’t perfect. Nor was Nadia on her bar routine by today’s rules, but that’s splitting hairs.
Still, while the rules put in place by those in charge at the FIG are the lone culprit as to why a great female athlete will be denied entrance to the most prestigious event of any gymnast’s life, it is what it is. The gymnastics community at large has the power to pressure the FIG to change the rules for future athletes.
What is more disconcerting is the use of video replay to dissect what happens in the blink of an eye when a team sends judges a scoring challenge.
Back in the day, the judges would get together, argue what they saw and draw a conclusion based on memory and expertise. To allow technology to take the place of the human eye—why not just create a program to allow computers to judge routines and take the individual aspect out all together?
The community would be wise to consider the future as, at some point, what happened on Monday could turn into the tip of a melting iceberg.