Blog 8: Women’s Team Finals
In a night of watching living legacies play out their dreams, it is a good day to wear the stars and stripes! Click HERE for the Inside Scoop!
Biles proved last night that she is still unbreakable, but not unbendable. A slight miscalculation of vertical on uneven bars, followed by a combination of hip turn out and a low chest position lead to a wobble on beam as well. In a way, it is nice to see that no one is perfect. Not that Simone hits absolutely everything in practice, or here in podium training…but pretty much so, yeah. Hopefully, the jitters are out now, and all around finals, and event days, can be with a deep breath. It’s like playing pie face, the game. You just want it to happen to you once, a face full of whip cream, and then, even though it makes absolutely no statistical sense, you feel ilke it is less likely to happen again next time around because you paid your dues. That, my friends, is the concept of superstition and luck.
It was, however, interestingly anticlimactic here, the lead up to the win that is. The win itself, seeing the flag raised, watching the parents realize the dreams of their children, and sighing relief that it finally is here after all of the hype... that was all indescribable. As if we all expected the overall win to happen, the hopes for the night were more to continue their “hit” streak, and to set the largest lead record ahead of a second place team that they could. They almost succeeded in that, if not for the huge lead that the Soviets had over the Czecks in the 1960’s. But then again, that old lead was far more impressive, when we were only on a 10.0 system. Eight points now, out of our system, is still impressive. Relatively speaking, hats off to the Soviet Union. You still have my respect!
What these women did last night was amazing. To put together another 12 hits, on top of the 16 in qualifiers, meaning 28 straight here in Rio. Unbelievable. Compare that to what is expected of our NBA players and their free throw shooting (and they are in the same place, all the time, with no one in their way), and a percentage much, much less than 100% is acceptable, commended, and paid millions.
The crowd did go wild, chanting USA. The girls were happy, wide-eyed, and full of emotion. But unlike 2012, when it was not a shoe-in, this seemed like it was a pre-run show. The cameras, the media, the medal stand. The marked anticipation of waiting for the final score was set up to be actual trepidation. Maybe it was waiting to see the United States on top, in writing. Maybe it was respectfully waiting to celebrate instead of just knowing it was going to happen. Not sure, but it felt different than 2012.
Seeing these beautiful women on the medal stand, smiling ear to ear, essentially waiting for the world to take their pictures and play the anthem, was chilling. Laurie is the best, wide-eyed and as excited as a four year old getting a sucker. She is not maybe as used to the fame, as Douglas and Raisman are, having been through this before, and in the media spotlight heavily for the last four years and the time leading up to London as well. Kocian, the sweet and humble athlete that she is, only had things to say about how proud she was that she could deliver and contribute her talents to the team win. Just doing her job as usual!
Seeing Simone's coach, and head coach, Aimee, was breathtaking after as well. She was just so excited inside, you could tell she wanted to jump and scream. But, her words speak volumes for the talent that she has, and the preparation that she lead this team to. They just simply showed the result of what happens when you do the work. Period.
The best emotions of the night were of Martha Karolyi, now commonly known as MK, cried. Aly said that she has seen her cry only three other times- in 2012, when she announced the team, and when they won here in Rio. Then, came the fourth. The team had decided that they needed a name. GLAMSquad almost stuck, as GLAMS are the initials of their first names. This was all chatted about on their group chat, of course, because why not. Then, the “Final Five” started to stick. Two meanings are in this fabulous name.
First, it is the final group of Olympians that will be five. As of the 2020 games in Tokyo, the team is only made up of four. Again, this whole numbers thing, makes it harder and harder for kids to get to their dreams. However, on the opinion of the rule makers for the sport, it does make it so that you have a team of girls who contributes more, each of them, as opposed to being able to bring one strong gun, like Kocian, on bars, and be able to do so because you have five total. Interesting controversy that many people are in upheaval about. Understandably so. In qualifying, in the future, you don’t get to use arsenals that you won’t use in finals. Interesting…
The other reason is that it is Karolyi’s last year as the National Team Coordinator. She says farewell to a sport that she leaves a lasting legacy on, personally, and to a country that is forever indebted to she and Bela for taking that plane ride to the US. To a woman whom I respect for her tenacity and definitive thought process, whom I have considered a mentor my whole life, a coach and a friend, thank you. I hope your “final” five girls gave you everything you ever dreamed of. And we are not even done yet!
A point of note as well from the meet: Eythora Thorsdottir. The epitome of artistry. When did this whole trick-trick-trick thing start? Exactly when we switched to difficulty ratings in order to gain your D-score. When the Code of Points was expanded, and the scoring system was switched, the focus shifted for sure. It is all about difficulty, instead of artistry. It is not rewarded to be a great dancer, or have a floor routine that tells a story, or a beam routine with a “neat” trick or pose, to show balance and creativity. To watch countries that may have less in the means of tumbling difficulty and more in the means of dance technique and artistry brings me back to the 1980's, an era of different gymnastics, but it was my base, and it is good to still see.
Tonight is the men’s all-around competition where team captain Chris Brooks and US five-time national champion Sam Mikulak take the stage, along with sport legend, Japan’s Kohei Uchimura. Tonight will be a blattle. Unlike the dominance of the US Women, the men will have to fight. Brooks has been waiting for this chance for, well, his entire life. He finally put it all together- training, focus, teamwork, family, and his gymnastics. No matter what place he finished tonight, getting here for him is truly the prize. May he put together the best six routines of his life, and no matter the ranking, leave this sport at the top of his game. As I talked about in an earlier blog, my admiration for Chris' push through life is amazing. This pic is one of the first hug he gave his mom when they saw each other, after finding out that he made the team. I was lucky enough to capture this moment for him, and wow, tears. Mom said, "You did it!" and Chris responded, "No, we did it, Mom!"
I hope the two of you remember why you started to do this in the first place, because it was fun to fly when you started gymnastics, and it still is. May you think about this tonight. I hope you have a smile on your face and inside you heart just like my Dad and my son do in this picture. I miss my father more than words can say, it is still 4 months fresh. But, he is here with me, with the two of you, and if he were in Rio, he would simply say, "Go get 'em, boys!
For Sam, tonight may be the first time for him to put together 6 for 6 in, well, years. You may think, really? Yep. He has handedly won National Championships because of his ability to keep at least 4 or 5 out of 6 consistently, and to be one of the only men, rare in a sport of 6 events, to be well rounded enough to have a full deck of cards...and an Ace on a few events, too. In Men’s gymnastics, the all-around champion in my mind is worth so much more than in women’s. Adding two events, and increasing the difficulty levels with the men with seemingly an endless ceiling, make for this difference. Hopefully, tonight is Sam’s night for his personal Super Six. He will get the help of his college teammate Jordan Gaarenstroom and Mate' Bros business partner, here at the arena, and his childhood friend, Tyler Meskin. "The last time that Sam hit was at a great time... the Olympic Trials for 2012. He is going to bring his game on tonight, of course with the help of some MATE'!," said Gaarenstroom. "We are going to rotate with him, event by event, to watch, cheer, give him massive energy, and experience this together. That may be the lucky 6!" Sam will be drinking his company's drink today for sure before competition to give him some natural energy... whatever it takes! Click HERE to be like Sam... and drink your Mate'!
One final note... on the Russian doping scandal. I have to hand it to one of my favorite athletes of these games, King, a US Swimmer, truly set her moral standards, and made them public. I. Love. It. To the many boos that the Russians are entering into the swimming venue with, this was a breath of fresh air. Totally worth the read. FIND IT HERE!
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