Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chinese Gymnastics

I know this will be the most off-topic post ever, but I can't NOT say something. Gymnastics was a very large part of my childhood. To this day, smelling a balance beam (it has it's own aroma) makes my pulse beat faster. And, I'm insanely joyful over P3's decision to do gymnastics. P4 wanting to take classes almost caused me to swoon! J/K

So,...I take the sport seriously. When I see articles like this, I get annoyed. Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports reporter, writes about the "Sour Grapes" reaction of Bela and Marta Karolyi. He even calls Marta "Martha", which irritates me in ways it shouldn't. Anyway, Mr. Wetzel thinks it was wrong for the Karolyi's to protest the inclusion of three Chinese gymnasts who are very likely underage. In some sports, I would agree. Age shouldn't matter. But, it does in gymnastics.

Wetzel says, "The Chinese had figured out how to upset their gymnastics dynasty, churning out these little athletic machines, perhaps so young they couldn’t even sense the pressure of the moment."

Actually, the Chinese were coming into these games with no talent. They've been struggling to pull together a good team for a few years now. Whereas, the Karolyi's have created champions since the 70's. However, the Chinese girls in question are unknowns. One is experiencing her first international competition and it just happens to be the Olympic games. That just doesn't happen. Show me any sport wherein the athlete has their first competition in the Olympics. It's not about the pressure, it's the knowledge that these girls came from nowhere.

"What kills the Karolyis isn’t that the Chinese would risk the health of their
children by throwing them out here before their bones and muscles mature. It’s
that the Americans won’t allow the Karolyis to do it, too."

Absolutely! The Karolyis have done it before, as this writer points out with Nadia. But, that was before a rule change. That was before the INTERNATIONAL gymnastics community decided that maybe it wasn't such a great idea for thirteen and fourteen year olds to permanantly damage their bodies with intense training for a year in the limelight. The rule didn't evolve from arbitrary observations. When you put a young girl (ESPECIALLY between 12-14) in elite, Olympic training schedules, they usually end up in injured...or dead. I can give this guy a list of gymnasts who illustrate this quite well. Training at Olympic caliber in this age range causes the body to loose calcium uptake in ways that dog the girls for the rest of their lives. However, if you hold off on that training for a year or two, the girl's body doesn't seem to have the same problem. Raising the age of Olympic gymnasts lowered the number of girls who were irreparably damaged. Contrary to what Wetzel claims, the Karolyis helped drum up support for the age restriction.

Here's the thing...if I were a non-Chinese gymnast, then I'd be pissed, too! Contrary to Mr. Wetzel's assertions, there is no proof that at least one of the gymnasts is 14. Nine months ago, she was registered in a competition sanctioned by China's national gymnastics body as a thirteen year old. Furthermore, newspapers recorded the same thing. There was no correction from the papers or the government. So...what is more believable: a country like China falsifying some documents (like a GOVERNMENT ISSUE passport) or at least ten sources getting it wrong? Remember, the Chinese team was painfully thin on talent. What do you do when your eligible girls aren't looking so hot and you have a system wherein you're grooming kids beginning at three? You go to the next in line. And, what do you know? There are these three girls who are amazing. They're also relatively unknown which makes the scam easier. I'm not trying to say that they're not gold medal caliber. They're fantastic. But, what the hell is the point of having rules if one country gets to flaunt them?

Here's the hard truth - lighter and shorter people fly higher and rotate faster. It's basic physics. It is a definite advantage to be small. That's why you don't see six foot tall female gymnasts. Perhaps more advantageous is the fact that a thirteen year old will be easier to con into lying because she has been told her family will be negatively impacted if she doesn't go along with the sham. Wetzel needs to bone up on his Chinese gymnastics "legacy". Part of that legacy includes taking kids from their parents at three and putting them in a gymnasium, sometimes, a thousand miles away. The parents get an annual bonus and the kid gets high end medical care and a steady diet. That's huge in China. So, yeah... do you not understand that that's leverage with younger children? The younger the child, the easier the effort to convince her that not playing along will hurt her family. Still think this is sour grapes, Mr. Wetzel?

I'm not surprised that the American gymnasts were gracious and good sports. They recognize good gymnastics when they see it and they knew they didn't do the best they could've done. It's not their job, though, to worry about how the rules apply to everyone else. THAT is the coaches job! What part of that do you not understand?

The Karolyis have been training champions since before you were born. They've molded hundreds, if not thousands, of little girls into gymnasts. But, you know, as a reporter, you must be more qualified to judge the age of small Chinese girls. Right. And, just for the record, the American team isn't the only contingent to bring this up. Though less publicized than the Karolyis, almost every delegation has caught on to the potential scam. It doesn't take a genius to know that we're going to hear it from American judges when you're in America and the coaches are gymnastics royalty. They're not perfect, but they know what they're talking about.



18 comments:

Katkinkate said...

Hi Pmomma. I did gymnastics for a while when I was a kid. I didn't really have an aptitude for it though. Too scared of heights and a shonky sense of balance. But I remember the time I spent in the beginners class watching the more advanced students.

I'm surprised there's any doubt the Chinese would try to pull a scam. They've got a history of cheating and they have no regard for individual welfare. 3 young females is such a small sacrifice to save face before the world.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

...and, as in every Olympics for the last twenty years or so, I was nail biting it. Now I'm all teary-eyed. Congrats to Nastia and Shawn! Gold and silver.

Hi Pmomma. I did gymnastics for a while when I was a kid. I didn't really have an aptitude for it though. Too scared of heights and a shonky sense of balance. But I remember the time I spent in the beginners class watching the more advanced students.
I loved everything about the danger. LOL That's what did me in, actually. I blew out my knee in seventh grade and ended up killing any gymnastic hopes forever after. But, I moved to baseball, so...*shrug* As long as I was moving, I was happy.

P3 seems to have the body and the desire to do it, too. She's five and has only been in it for six months, but she's already preparing for the test to move to level 2. P4 will be good at it, too. He's got the powerhouse legs.

I'm surprised there's any doubt the Chinese would try to pull a scam. They've got a history of cheating and they have no regard for individual welfare. 3 young females is such a small sacrifice to save face before the world.

No joke, huh? I have nothing against the Chinese, but they're not exactly the paragon example of playing nice/fair. It's also a country wherein the government can do just about anything it wants to do with no over-sight. Did you notice they didn't run the alleged under-agers in the all around?

Dawn said...

Hi, Pmomma! I've been following this controvery for a while now, since my CHINESE boss (born and lived in China until he was 18) brought it up. For the record, he feels the girls are 1) under 16 and 2) forced to lie to protect their families.

But, in his words, "a totalitarian government doesn't have to answer to anyone".

Unfortunately, the IOC's hands are tied. They have to accept the official government passports issued. We have to accept that, unfortunately, too. Although we can complain, we have no proof. The Chinese government can say the newspapers were all wrong, the girls are all 16, as shown by passports (and maybe birth certificates). But who issues those? The government.

No legal proof. We can suspect and point to documents to the contrary, but no legal proof means our hands are tied.

Best wishes to P3 and P4 in their gymnastics. I did them in 7-9 grades and had a blast. Never was really good, but I enjoyed them.

mostcurious said...

My daughter (4) is doing gymnastics now because she wanted to. She started asking to "do gymnastics" at 2 and a half. I don't think she will last. She's going to be too tall in the end, and she's inherited my inability to tell where she is in space. :) I'm just hopeful maybe some of the coaching will counteract that. But as long as she is excited to go, I'm willing to take her.

I too feel China is sacrificing these girls to 'save face' and win as many medals as they possibly can. I appreciate your perspective.

Juanita's Journal said...

Who . . . gives . . . a . . . shit??? Who cares about the ages of the Chinese gymnasts? I don't. I didn't even know about this new rule regarding the age limit until this scandal broke out. And you know what? I realized that I didn't give a shit.

However, I found it rather disturbing that everyone else does. They're approaching this subject as if we're fighting some kind damn war. And over a group of young Chinese girls.

You know what? Since the beginning of the year, both the Western and Eastern media have been making a big deal over the political brouha over this particular Olympic Games. And why? Because the host country is Communist.


I have nothing against the Chinese, but they're not exactly the paragon example of playing nice/fair.

Really? What country is? Certainly not the U.S. or any other Western nation. There isn't a nation on this earth that is capable of playing "nice/fair".

Amy said...

Excellent post. I agreed 100%. I did gymnastics for years and have a similar nostalgia about it :)

Perpetual Beginner said...

Wow. How many people here did gymnastics as a kid? I certainly did for a while. Unfortunately while I inherited my Dad's ability to place myself in space, I don't have enough explosiveness to do serious tumbling. I did get pretty good on balance beam, which I loved.

juanita's journal - do I care that the Chinese are diddling records, per se? No. I do care that they're more than willing to wreck those girls' bodies for life in order to win on the international stage. The rate of serious injury for elite gymnasts is horrific (I believe something like 93% have either broken bones or other injury severe enough to require surgery by the time they hit elite levels.) Working the girls at those levels younger means more injuries, worse injuries, more permanent injuries, and that isn't okay.

Shar said...

I don't know how much those regs help the girls though. The Junior league is run with the same standards and scoring methods that the elite gymnasts do.

The elite girls are still starting to train about as young as they used to. The entire machine has some nasty things about it that make me very uncomfortable because it's a young girls' sport (Dominique Mocianu now is pretty angry the way she was treated by the Karolyis, with no real time to recover from injury, the almost anorexic food restrictions, etc). The girls don't really fully understand what they are putting themselves through, or the problems their bodies are likely to have at, say, forty.

And, the whole reason we care about the cheating is because everyone else did follow the rules, and in gymnastics, younger, lighter girls, with higher pre-puberty centers of gravity have a distinct advantage. It has very little to do with the fact that China is an ebil Communist nation!11!! Granted, the Chinese girls did out perform the American and other teams bar none, so my complaints are only in regard to being worried about their later health and current treatment (they get spit out around 17 on occasion with no real other support after being in these government camps their whole lives)

I kinda wish women's gymnastics could find a way to reform itself into a sport that favored mature women, rather than young girls, much like men's gymnastics does.

Shar said...

Really? What country is? Certainly not the U.S. or any other Western nation. There isn't a nation on this earth that is capable of playing "nice/fair".

In world politics, sure, but I'm pretty sure most countries are still following the rules set down by the Olympic committees.

Berlzebub said...

@ Juanita's Journal:
So, you find it disturbing that people who used to be involved in gymnastics aren't apathetic to the situation? I personally find apathy disturbing. So, we're even.

Karen said...

I can't watch gymnastics any more. Not since college, back in the late '70s. In my freshman year, my next-door neighbor was a small, vivacious woman who was bouncing with excitement because she'd been accepted on the school's gymnastic team. In my senior year I met up with her again, only this time she was on crutches after her third knee surgery. She'd taken the advice of her coach over that of her doctor, and performed with that damaged knee... and when we last talked, the best outcome she could hope for was to be able to walk unaided.

When I come across gymnastics on TV, I remember Sue, her bright smile, her brilliant performances (she was very good), and her crutches. Sorry, but to my mind gymnastics sucks.

Calm Down said...

So what official documents did the US Gymnastics Team provide to FIG and IOC? Let me guess: Passports?

Bingo!

Issued by the same government that claimed there is WMD in Iraq.

Clearly, Shawn Johnson looks younger than 16. The girls in my high school look way more mature than her with fully developed chests and legs. She looks 14, tops! FIG and IOC clearly need to start an investigation into her eligibility for the Olympics. The US is OBVIOUSLY cheating!

Berlzebub said...

@ Calm Down:
I've known people in their twenties that looked younger than Ms. Johnson. However, Shawn's age hasn't changed since prior meets. Considering the multiple citings of the different age in prior instances (gymnastics coverage), compared to the one document that shows a different one (Chinese passport) that's what brings up the question.

@ P-Momma:
You're the only person I know who can bring out trolls by posting about gymnastics.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

@ P-Momma:
You're the only person I know who can bring out trolls by posting about gymnastics.

No shit, huh?

I think it's really funny, actually. I didn't say this was the most important news in the world and OMGZ!!!11!. It was a reaction to a post made by a reporter who was missing some key informatin giving his truly apathetic opinion. I could understand the comments if my blog was one long ode to Chinese cheating or gymnastics, but it's not.
Clearly, Shawn Johnson looks younger than 16. The girls in my high school look way more mature than her with fully developed chests and legs. She looks 14, tops! FIG and IOC clearly need to start an investigation into her eligibility for the Olympics. The US is OBVIOUSLY cheating

Shawn Johnson's birthday was registered with a hospital, the county, and the federal government (social security). And, due to the fact that her parents signed a waiver granting the USOC and "any other governing body" the right to check the details...I'd say that her age is pretty well set. It's a bit harder to change all of those seperate sources. Not to mention the fact that she's been in international meets for two or three years without magically aging four years. ;)

However, I found it rather disturbing that everyone else does. They're approaching this subject as if we're fighting some kind damn war. And over a group of young Chinese girls.

You have a Tiger Lily icon during war time and you're giving me shit? Don't you know there's a WAR we're fighting and we all must think of nothing else?

You know what? Since the beginning of the year, both the Western and Eastern media have been making a big deal over the political brouha over this particular Olympic Games. And why? Because the host country is Communist.

Yeah. That's why my only other post is about how excited I was for the Games to start. I'm totally part of the conspiracy to point out the flaws of totalitarianism without reason. I see no broohaha in this blog, yet you're acting as if there is. If I were a reporter or camera man from another country who'd had their tape recorders or cameras taken by the Chinese officials,...then, I might be kind of pissy.

Atheist in a mini van. said...

Oh yeah,...one more thing Tiger Lily. You're lucky you're not in China...your statement about their being a war would've resulted in a fine and possible ejection as a reporter during the Olympics. The Chinese government has stated that the issues of Iraq and Georgia or any other political issues can't be brought into any article which also discusses the Olympics.

Carlie said...

What bothers me is that the 16 cutoff doesn't seem to matter much as far as training is concerned. They still start out just as young, right? So what difference does it make when they start to compete? I mean, I'm all over making the age higher, but I would think the kids in those training camps are just as misused whether they do end up in the olympics that year or not. I'd rather see a requirement that they can't start training until age 8 or something of the sort.

Perpetual Beginner said...

Carlie - I would argue that it does make some difference, if not as much as it should. If the elite gymnasts can't compete on the international stage until 16, then that means that they have to last until 16. It encourages a slightly longer, slower buildup to those skills.

Flux said...

Nastia Liukin still got robbed on the uneven bars, any way you look at it. I really admire the US team for being so professional about it, but the fact is, people are missing out on medals and losing them to people who have no business being there in the first place.