Griping in the Gym: Thoughts on the Gymnastics Controversies in London

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Griping in the Gym: Thoughts on the Gymnastics Controversies in London
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Jordyn Wieber redeemed herself in the team competition, but a very odd rule kept her out of the individual all-around competition.

So far in the gymnastics competition at the 2012 London Games, we have seen two very big controversies: First, the one everyone knows about—Jordyn Wieber’s exclusion from the all-around competition.

The second, however, is one that not many people knew about. That is, Japan’s protest of Kohei Uchimura's performance on the pommel horse, which resulted in them being rocketed from fourth, and off the podium, to second.

First, let’s go to the one that has been stewing in my mind for a little while now: Wieber’s emotional shutout from the all-around competition—because there were already enough Americans in the event.

First off, let me say that, in my opinion, gymnastics is a picky enough sport already; there are deductions for everything. Even so much as a little toe out of line can cost you crucial tenths of a point. So, to see Wieber get knocked out not on performance (she placed fourth), but on a picky little rule (only two from any country can qualify), makes me reach for my remote.

The rules say "The best 24 individual gymnasts qualify for the event" (my emphasis added). To the casual observer, you would think that would be the 24 best gymnasts, regardless of country.

But, that doesn't seem to be the case.

I would think, if you want the most exciting final, the one that will get you the best ratings on TV, you'd want the 24 best gymnasts. You'd want the superstars of the sport. But, instead, we got gymnasts in countries that barely even placed in the top 24 (Australia and Poland, who would have one between them in the competition had we gotten rid of this quota). 

I agree with Bela Karolyi in this case: If the rule says "the 24 best gymnasts", then by golly, we should have the 24 best gymnasts, country be damned.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
Kohei Uchimura's routine was the subject of much ire after a formal protest by Team Japan

Let me be blunt here. Sometimes, the people outside the top 24 just weren't good enough to get there; that's why they're not in the top 24.

For some, including Wieber, this was the only chance to have a medal that was all their own, and now a minor rule keeps her from it?

I'm very glad she was able to redeem herself with a win in team competition, but let's not let this happen again, Jacques Rogge. The now infamous tearful exclusion should not be our lasting memory of this Olympic gymnastic competition.

Moving on, we take a look at Kohei Uchimura's performance, which not only elicited a formal protest from Japan, but prompted boos from the partisan crowd after it was determined that he hadn't missed the dismount, but just had a bad dismount.

This allowed him to receive 7/10 of a point more, putting Japan on the podium in second place, Great Britain with the bronze, and sending Team Ukraine home disappointed.

To be honest, the whole thing brings me back to my original point: How picky judges in gymnastics can be.

I've seen replays from almost every single angle, and if I were a judge, I would not let that protest stand. It looks like he clearly fell off the pommel horse trying to do a handstand.

Now, I should probably be the last person to criticize handstands on a pommel horse (I certainly can't do it), but slipping off of it and dismounting off of it are clearly two different things.

Even if I let it stand, giving back .7 seems way too much. If there was a certain amount of time he was supposed to keep that handstand up, it certainly didn't look like he kept it for that long, and certainly didn't look like he intended to do any of that from the beginning.

It just looked bad, and just added another controversy to what has already been a very controversial Olympics.

I really think after the Games are over a full audit should be made of every last judge here. Maybe it was one or two bad apples spoiling the bunch, but I really think it needs to be done—just to make sure the best of the best are there scoring the best of the best.

Otherwise, there could be more griping in the gym in Rio in 2016.

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