Blog 7: Day 7 – Men’s Team Finals... and more
Well, here we go! It’s finals time! Men’s finals yesterday, then women’s tonight, then all around the next two days. Whew. Then a breath, then event finals, and wow….!
Let’s start today with getting some links out of the way. Everyone in the world has the ability to live stream the meet. So, doing a play by play of the scores is just not needed these days. We are writing and focusing on, as such, stories, highlights, and an in-depth focus. Men's final recap: CLICK HERE TO READ.
Of course, I always like writing a special piece every day that takes you here. Today’s focus is on the fact that this “women’s” team, made up of 22, 20, 19, 19, and 16. That is an average of 19.2. A combined age of 96, which is how old ONE person in the audience probably is. Or, at least, someone who is watching from home. Take yourself on a journey through their eyes, and the reality of the scale of what they have accomplished in their young lives, before most people are done partying their freshman year in college. READ ABOUT THESE FIVE WOMEN HERE!!!
Number seven, day seven, men's team finals. The United States men's team, prior to yesterday, had a bronze medal within their means. The whole dominance of Japan and China as well as the past dominant Soviet/Russian team and current re-rising of the Russian team was one that, even on our best day, our D-scores and consistency could not match. The illustrious bronze would have been fantastic for our men, but instead we paralleled our 2012 Games finish. The men, disappointed after the meet as well the coaches, were still all hugs and cheers. The athletes poured their hearts out into this competition. And they gave it all that they have, literally, mentally and physically. As much as I am proud of these guys for who they are personally and the heart that they show every day, and of our program, there is... Just. Something. Missing.
In post meet interviews, I was able to capture not only the statistical significance of the finish but also the emotion that went into the day and the eventual placement. I was actually sitting with Sam's family for a portion of rotation four headed into rotations five and six. Everyone was very nervous, given the position in these five men’s potential.
Parallel bars went unbelievably well, as Chris Brooks showed his maturity in changed personality and focus, and his absolute determination to contribute to this team. He delivered on high bar as well, prior to the meet looking down at the floor ready to mount the high bar, concentrating on what essentially is the biggest performance of his life. Sam continued to deliver the last two events, and to be extremely proud of it. What followed, was the start of a social media buzz and controversy that clearly needs to be talked about.
Let's just start this pondering with the NBA. In professional basketball, as well as NCAA basketball, there is a chaotic craziness of minutes that happens at the end of every game. Each team sloughing up every bite of energy that they have to either score and sneak in some last points or somehow be in the right place at the right time and do what is called holding, or numerous other fouls. My favorite is to stand in the way of someone, purposely, then when they try to get by, look “stunned” saying “who, me?” This has been of much debate among basketball and spots enthusiasts, as it seems instead of playing the game, everybody's wishing that they would've done better earlier and scraping to see who can create the best last sixty second story.
Actually, is that every minute of the game counts. From the first basket to the last. In gymnastics from the first event to the last. In team finals there is no room for error, as it is three up, three count, as opposed to preliminaries were a score can be dropped.
So let's rewind. Rewind it to Sam's steps out of bounds. Rewind it to Alex on the Pommel horse. Rewind to a few dismount steps here and there. Everywhere. From everyone.
Yes, the truth is that Danell fell off of high bar. An event that he will forever be known for …and at the same time as one of the event’s best workers. Unfortunately, this fall came at the wrong place at the wrong time. He simply stated that it was a technical error in execution, as his dad and coach, Yin, had told him immediately after he received his score. However that will never make up for the already embedded disappointment of London in 2012 as a team, matching Orozco’s failed perfection at the same event, and now the “last routine” of the team competition for the US that will live in his mind in infamy. Sure, he has a chance to redeem himself, personally, through high bar finals, as well as bringing home an additional medal for the team. But as much as the medal is for the United States, it is still just not a team medal.
Given the difficulty of men's gymnastics (as they are often compared to women), they have six events, women have four. They do events and skills that literally can break ankles and pop pecs. The change from the 10.0 code of points has made men's gymnastics just, well, crazy. Trying to perfect strength maneuvers on rings as well as two additional events makes the demand on their sport so much harder. This, therefore, really does make consistency something that is so much more difficult to achieve than on the women's side. So, if we can't change the routines, we can't ignore the code, and we can't practice many more hours than we already do without the body combusting, one would think it is less physical and more on the mental side. Leadership, accountability, focus, is that the formula? Other countries are seeming to figure out the formula. So, why not us?
Let's rewind one more time to training. Of course, no one wants to talk about the reasons why a team did not medal. But, we need to, with regards to the US men's program, and not just simply last night. The women are always scrutinized for the intensity of their training, their absolute technical creation of workout plans with cycles, the intolerance of imperfection from pointed toes down to form during conditioning. But hey, look…it works.
People are welcome to scrutinize this level of stress, demand perfection, and absolute type of training. It may be OK to scrutinize this for 10-year-olds in Little League. But this is not Little League, this is the Olympic Games. If you want a hug a good job a “hey it's OK- try better next time,” be the parent of a child in T-ball, or the coach of a level five team in rural America. But in order to be the best, to keep up with the best, and to prepare for the best, you must train like that.
The pressure, the follow-through, has to come from the top of the program, not from the bottom up. The strive for perfection, and non-acceptance of anything else, has to be first set as an example by those who are deemed the leaders, not the athletes. If they were supposed to be coaches, too, then someone needs to let them know.
If you, as a parent do not want to even expose your kids to this type of stress, and feel like it is wrong, then don’t allow them to ever get good as sports. Especially those that require judgment, like gymnastics and skating. Stick to swimming, where the clock is what it is. But, be warned, if your kid is good, or wants to be good, they have to work there, too.
The reason why the women are so prepared is because competition is actually easier than any day at the ranch in Texas or at any of their home gyms. It is meant to be that way, so that there are the least amount of differences on any competition day to a practice. Sports psychologist and athletic analysts through history note that this is the single highest contributing factor to competition readiness and success. Period. As you read the article on the Women and quotes from coaching staff and the athletes, one thing is pervasive through it all.. they are prepared to do this job, so it is expected that they do it.
Parents should tell their kids that they are champions no matter what. At the end of the day, being a team and relishing in the days, weeks, hours, (and possibly decades) that it took to get to this place - to even qualify - should be achievement in and of itself.
Except, this is the Olympic games. A program, its coaches, and its athletes, should take it seriously when potential achievement is not actually achieved. I have to hand it to Chris and Sam for their comments with “we start as a team, we end as a team. One team, one dream.” I have to absolutely give credit to head coach Mark Williams for his unbelievable motivation in keeping this team as one group of guys, one country, and one goal. They help each other out, they lift each other. The guys live together, most of them, at the OTC in Colorado, so they literally function as one unit. I don't think it's Danell's fault. Absolutely not. Was he a contributor, sure. I don't think it's Sam's fault for stepping out of bounds. I don't think it is anything that happened yesterday, here in training in Rio, or even within the last few weeks. It is a program that needs to be changed a bit. And, accountability that needs to be elevated. With the amount of resources that the United States has – medical staff, injury prevention, coaching, recovery techniques and gadgets, nutrition, measurements, and so much more… we should be able to do this. As a good friend and amazing Olympian stated to me, "these guys should not be sad, they should be devastated." And not just the athletes.
A parallel universe needs to be allowed. What I mean by this is to be happy with where you are, to always look at where you have come from, but also to realize the magnitude of the task that you have been given the opportunity to complete. The athletes, who especially in the sport of gymnastics, are used to being told what to do and where to go, every minute, day in and day out, need to be guided into being more prepared to compete and be consistent. At the end of the day, that is the change. And...then to kick some tail feathers doing so.
After leaving the ranch, taking a break, getting on a plane, having a drink with Bela (who I am sure is happy that the stress will be over) and de-stressing, maybe Martha should hop on a flight to Colorado. If even just for a week, or a month. But, shhhh. Don’t tell anyone. No one can be allowed to be “sick” those days. J
The athletes, I am certain, would respond so very well to this guidance and push. The world may blame High Bar now, but in the end, it isn't the 18th routine that matters. It is all of the routes and sets in practice that were allowed to be less than what they should have been. It's the first, the fifth, the ninth, the…….
Returning specifically to the Leyva situation now. Looking back to the 2015 University of Michigan versus Michigan State game, I see so many similarities. The U of M was in a clear place to take this wonderful rivalry, and in the end, the poor Michigan punter experienced seven seconds of his life that he will never be able to really live or undo. The media scrutiny that he went through, the name-calling, the absolute negativity was not only bad sportsmanship but personal disgrace to the country and the reason why we support our universities in sports in the first place. This led to Facebook posts that were a mockery, reportings of big university donors ripping a program. The worst of all, however, was the personal sadness that he suffered needing to be watched round the clock and make sure that potential suicidal thoughts didn't come to reality. What a shame. He is a person, he is a human. He is not the concrete base of the 100 story building able to hold the weight of the world on it shoulders. He is a living breathing mix of art and sport a mind a heart and a soul. They all are.
So, with that in mind, enjoy the women’s team final. Remember that the Chinese women are under so much more national and societal pressure than the US athletes. Most of these other countries do not have the sponsorships and professional opportunities that the Americans have to take advantage of, or to fall back on, after the Games are over.
Tonight, you will see a show. Without a doubt, unless we only compete two girls because someone is in the bathroom… we are pretty “golden.” So, the goal, of course, is to hit. 12 for 12. Not only to prove, again, the consistency theory, but also to hopefully set a team finals record score that will hold its place in the history books on the top for years, if not decades, to come. Once in a lifetime does a group of women and coaches come together like this, like the Chicago Bulls in the 1990’s, and who knows if it will continue, or when it will come again. Let's give Martha her final curtain call, with the greatest team to ever take the floor in the sport of women's gymnastics.
Watch the excitement of the Brazilian team and fans. Be focused on the choreography of the Netherlands.Pay close attention to the ease at which China does bars. Watch Aliya Mustafina, a Russian legacy, on floor. And in the end, breath, and take it all in.
Cheers from Rio!
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