OK guys it's time to admit it.
You watch this.
You take time out to watch this.
You change the channel to check it out and end up watching all four rotations.
You root for these diminutive Oklahoma Americans, and you cringe when they fall off the beam.
Even though it’s completely wrong (half these girls are like 15), you like watching them flip around in their skin-tight suits.
You cried like a baby when Kerri Strug stuck her final vault on one foot to ice the gold for team USA, then collapsed to the mat in agony.
Olympic gymnastics provides the ultimate theater, displays intriguing rivalries, is purely amateur competition, and displays such consummate skill that it’s difficult to believe that some of these moves are humanly possible.
You want toughness boys? These girls participate in the most injury-plagued sport on the planet. It dwarfs things like wrestling and football when it comes to career-ending injuries, and is ahead of extreme sports like skate-boarding and motocross when it comes to fractures.
These girls are tough. And the margin of error is so small. Gymnastics is also one of the most grueling mental competitions, demanding nothing other than absolute focus. All this from mid-teen-year-old girls, on the world’s most intimidating stage.
You want athleticism? These girls can actually do the things that movie folks need wires, and mirrors, and special effects to produce. They can balance on a four inch beam, while twisting, and flipping, and tumbling. The can swing like spider man on a couple of flexible bars, and can land double twisting double flips on the floor. White girls CAN jump.
Are you sick of controversy? Like any sport there have been instances of chemical enhancement in women’s gymnastics, but for the most part the sport’s greatest names have never failed a drug test. When the medals are awarded, you don’t get the feeling that those standing on the podium are simply the ones who’ve not been caught.
Do you appreciate dedication? These girls have basically given up their childhoods to pursue the mastery of a sport that will never make them any money. Sure, maybe one athlete every couple of Olympics captures the imagination enough to get some good endorsements, but that fame is most often fleeting, and is quickly forgotten. Most of these athletes simply hope for a College scholarship, though unfortunately, their sport is not funded by the majority of NCAA schools.
We like these girls because they are more like us. They are not multi-millionaires talking about “feeding their families,” while pocketing tens of millions of dollars, and they aren’t unrepentant liars, claiming their innocence in the wake of lock-tight doping allegations.
And hell, how couldn’t you want these girls, who could be your sister or neighbor, to do well on the bright stage from their often humble beginnings. There is something distinctly American about these mid-Western girls. They are polite, proud, happy to be there, and tough as nails.
And the competition in women’s gymnastics is fascinating. Particularly so this year, as it may be the most compelling "China vs. America" showdown within the entire 2008 games. Both the American and Chinese women have legitimate aspirations for team gold.
I thought about some other sports, like the 100 meter dash, and “redeem team” basketball, but as interesting as those story-lines are, they speak much more to America’s ego and celebrity worship, which are two of the uglier aspects of American culture.
But the shorties remind me of the more subtle, less celebrated, and more admirable side of America.
They remind me of the essence of Olympic competition, beyond the politics, infighting, and endorsement deals.
So here’s a shout out to the shorties. I’ll be watching, and admit it boys, you will be too.