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Tumbling through Controversy

The Olympics are a mix of national pride, joy, sadness, and of course…controversy. Nothing says “international event” quite like results that leave us scratching our heads.  It gets us talking and brings a new focus to sports that most of us don’t even care about outside of the two weeks we become experts on the subject every four years.  So it’s a little weird to get upset most of the time, but from time to time, a sport can give you cause for concern…or frustration.

It’s apparently gymnastics’ turn to take the controversy stage as both the men and women have had strange endings within these first three days.  Now, gymnastics, particularly women’s gymnastics, has always piqued our interest more than other sports so perhaps we’re more cognizant of the outcomes as compared to other sports where we probably wouldn’t care as much, but there is some weird stuff going on in a sport we already raise an eye at sometimes (be honest, there’s something funky about China’s 14 year old gymnasts and do any of these girls look healthy?).

Last night, Japan was upset one of their gymnasts received a massive deduction for not going to a handstand before the dismount on their final apparatus, the pommel horse.  By the way, if he hadn’t, the deduction was totally legit and sucks to be them.  If they’d accepted it as it was, they’d have fallen off the medal stand and wound up fourth.  It was close, but sure, you could make the case he got to the handstand before slipping and recovering enough to land square on his feet.  But who knew you actually had to PAY to file a formal complaint with the judges?  That seemed highly suspect to me and should to you too.

I don’t have a problem with countries filing a complaint about an outcome.  If you think the judges got it wrong, say something.  But having to pay for it?  That’s silly.  It’s the Olympic games.  This is the one time you want to get it right and there shouldn’t be a penalty.  Imagine if there was a fiver attached to every instant replay in the NFL.  Think about that for a moment.  At the end of every game, the refs hand both teams a bill for their replay services.  You’d go ballistic and call it shady, cheap, and every other goofy name you could come up with.  It’s really not any different in this situation.

I guess you could say it’s made better by the reality of if you get your appeal overturned, you get to keep the money and it’s only if they deny your request that they keep it, but that’s still very iffy to me.  There’s far too great a chance of bribery in a situation like that.  It makes your sport look cheap.  And don’t be naïve and say “oh, it’s the Olympics, that couldn’t happen” because it’s happened before and it’ll happen again.

How easy would it be to bribe someone?  Pretty damn easy if you want the truth.  Just line the bills up together and hand it over.  They know what it really costs.  If you gave them the look, they’d know you didn’t need change.  Easy switch with the public watching.  Medals going different ways.  Ask Ukraine what it’s like to be off the podium, think you’ve won the bronze, then suddenly you’re off the podium again.  It’s a shady practice even if it’s all above the table.

Yet that wasn’t the most egregious WTF moment in the sport these last 4 days.  Sunday night, NBC closed their coverage (more on that soon) with shots of Jordan Wieber breaking down on national television because she would not be competing for an All-Around medal at these games.  She’s the reigning world champion in the all-around and is considered by many the crown jewel in the US’ Fab Five.  It wasn’t even that she was awful.  It’s because a country can only send 2 gymnasts to the final.

Wait….what?  Are they for real?  Weiber posted one of the best scores of the preliminaries, didn’t have any major falls or deductions, and is the reigning world champion, yet she doesn’t go to the finals, while others who were FAR less deserving are going to have a chance?  That’s beyond silly and the international gymnastics governing body (I have no idea what their fancy acronym is) should be ashamed.

It’s the Olympic games and people want to see the best of the best.  They want to see the cream of the crop get the chance to win gold.  If it means a country doesn’t get represented, that’s tough noogies on them.  They’re taking 24 gymnasts and when you pull something like this (a new rule in the last few years I believe), you’re not giving fans an viewers what they’re wanting to see.  All you’re doing is opening yourself up to the controversy overshadowing the entire event.

Does that sound familiar to anyone else?  Only two gymnasts allowed to advance despite other athletes clearly showing they deserve to be a part of the final discussion?  Who knew the BCS ran gymnastics.  It was absurd in college football last year when Arkansas deserved to be in the BCS games, much like Mizzou in 07, and it was absurd Sunday night.  Do you really think people are going to be upset that there weren’t two gymnasts from Japan?  Oh, we’d better make sure the Latvians get their shot, even though we had about 9 other gymnasts who performed better.  I’m all for equality of opportunity, but this forced sports socialism has to stop.

Why have we allowed our sports to get into this “everyone gets the same chance for a medal” model that excludes some of the best.  Everyone already gets a chance.  It’s called the preliminaries.  The finals are for the best of the best.  I don’t want to feel a “yeah but” when I watch the finals and we’re going to have that this year.

Sure, after the Olympics we’re going to go back to not being all that concerned with gymnastics, but our commitment to the sport should be irrelevant when it comes to legitimate gripes about the way things are handled.  Japan got the medal it earned and yes, by rule, Wieber did too, but there’s something inherently unfair about how the two situations were handled.  If they Olympics want to remain about fairness of competiton, they’ll answer some of these questions before Rio.  Losing out on watching the best of the best, or being worried about bribes, isn’t going to create the feelings the Olympics are supposed to be all about.

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