In summary, the American men, who had the highest score in the qualifying rounds, and who were expected to be the first American team to challenge for a gold medal since the boycotted 1984 Los Angeles Games, suffered an absolute meltdown in the team finals, beginning especially with their second event, the pommel horse. They continued to struggle throughout the competition and finished a very disappointing fifth. A fifth-place-finish would have been considered strong in previous Olympic Games. But the American men had closed the distance and most thought they would at least stand on the podium, perhaps with gold medals around their necks. It was not to be.
How did the rest of the meet go for them? I don’t really know. NBC skipped their rings routines, showed their vaults, then skipped their parallel bars and high bar routines. We saw the American men on three events.
Would they have done that to the American women, no matter how bad their night began? Not a chance. It’s not that I don’t understand the reasons. But I still lament that American men’s gymnastics gets so little respect, relative to the women’s side. The women have a beautifully composed montage with Phillip Phillip’s coronation song from American Idol, “Home” (see the video in the next post), while the American men get snubbed in prime time in favor of watching China and Great Britain. It may have been the right decision when you consider where the drama was. But it was disappointing nonetheless for fans of USA Men’s Gymnastics, and a sign of the lesser regard for the men’s sport here in the United States.
In any case, it was a pleasure to see the British team perform so well, and unfortunate that a judging error made it feel more like they lost the silver medal and less like they won the bronze. After the Brits finished with three boffo routines on the floor exercise, and Japan stumbled on the pommel horse, the Brits briefly held second place at the end of the competition. Yet the Japanese coaches believed that one of their gymnasts had received too low a start value. Remember that the scores the gymnasts receive are their start value (the total number of points for fulfilling the requirements and performing their particular set of skills) minus their deductions (form breaks, falls, missed landings, etc.). When the Japanese gymnast seemed to fail to pass through a handstand on his dismount from the pommel horse, the judges initially ruled that he had failed to fulfill the dismount requirement. That meant an additional seven tenths of a point subtracted. After the Japanese lodged their challenge, the judges and officials conferred and looked at a recording and came to agree with the Japanese judges. So 0.7 was added back onto the Japanese total, which took them from fourth to second, and dropped the Brits to third. Still, good for the Brits, and their country should be proud of them for a medal of any color.
The Chinese men brushed off their terrible showing in the qualifying round and dominated the team final. There’s a lesson here for the American women. I was, in a sense, glad that the American women struggled a bit in the later rotations of the qualifying round. If you perform your best and effortlessly leave everyone in the dust, it’s easy to come into the final round and take it for granted. If you’re reminded that you, too, can make mistakes, that you too need to focus and strive for every tenth, then you may well perform better.
Here’s hoping. I’ll post the “Home” video in the next post.