Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stupid rules

  1. Shawn Johnson, United States
  2. Nastia Liukin, United States
  3. Yang Yilin, China
  4. Ksenia Semenova, Russia
  5. Anna Pavlova, Russia
  6. Ksenia Afanaseva, Russia
  7. Jiang Yuyuan, China
  8. Steliana Nistor, Romania
  9. Deng Linlin, China
  10. Ekaterina Kramarenko, Russia
  11. Bridget Sloan, United States
  12. Jade Barbosa, Brazil
  13. Sandra Izbasa, Romania
  14. Oksana Chusovitina, Germany
  15. Shona Morgan, Australia
  16. Anamaria Tamirjan, Romania
  17. Koko Tsurumi, Japan
  18. Georgia Bonora, Australia
  19. Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs, Canada
  20. Marine Petit, France
  21. Vanessa Ferrari, Italy
  22. Laetitia Dugain, France
  23. Lia Parolari, Italy
  24. Becky Downie, Great Britain
This is the list of the top 24 qualifiers for the all-around competition in Women's Gymnastics at the Olympics, and the top 24 get to move on to the competition. (I recognize this isn't very timely. What can I do, I've got a life, of sorts, too.) Now if you watched the NBC coverage of the all-around, you didn't see all these women (OK, if you watched NBC's coverage, you saw seven or eight of the 24, but there were others).

In particular, you might be wondering what happened to Bridget Sloan. Since she's American, you would think that NBC would have been putting their cameras right in her face, but you didn't see her at all. That's because she wasn't there.

The rules state that only two gymnasts from each nation can compete in the all-around. This was done in the past to prevent the Soviets from taking the top six places. (There are similar rules for the individual apparatus finals.) I have crossed out the names of top 24 qualifiers who didn't make the all-around because they happened to have two teammates who did better. Here's the list of the five who got in, along with their qualifying position:

Ariella Kaslin, Switzerland (25)
Kyoko Oshima, Japan (27)
Kristyna Palesova, Czech Republic (26)
Ana Silva, Brazil (28)
Gaelle Mys, Belgium (31)

In other words, we got to enjoy the 31st-best gymnast in the world, while the 6th-best sat back in the Olympic Village. Bridget Sloan, who got short shrift from NBC because she had the least-exciting back story (she wasn't one of the two glamor girls, wasn't the one who just missed the 2004 team, wasn't the gutsy team-leader grandma, and didn't have the "tragic" last-second injury; she was just kind of there), was done with the Games despite being 11th-best.

Here's why this story resonates with me. When I was in high school, I finished second in the region (I think it was four states plus Ontario) on a national mathematics test. The top three received plaques commemorating their achievement. You probably want me to include a picture of my shiny plaque in this blog post, right?

But I can't. I was second to a teammate, and the rules were that they only gave plaques to one person from a school. So "my" plaque went to someone else, and the third-place plaque...hey, that's funny, too, because it was another one of my teammates who finished fourth, so that went to the fifth-place finisher (how do you put that up in your rec room? Someone asks, saying, wow, you finished third?, and you have to explain that, no, you finished fifth, but they gave you the one for third.).

Everyone claims they want less jingoistic nationalism in sports, then we ignore rules that elevate the team over the individual, even in an individual event. Similarly, we allow only two swimmers from each nation into each event, so the third-best butterflyer can be left at home.

I understand the counter-argument, that we can't have the USA going 1 through 8 in the 200-meter freestyle, that it would hurt the reputation of the sport and make it hard to build interest in other nations.

But these are supposed to be the fulfillment of individual dreams, and a celebration of the best in the world. It isn't Ksenia Afanasyeva's fault that she came in behind Semenova and Pavlova, she should get to compete, and the viewer shouldn't be prevented from seeing her.

(I accept that this argument, taken to its fullest, would imply that the basketball tournament should be made up of the 12 best NBA teams. To me, this argues more for eliminating basketball from the Olympics, not for supporting the inclusion of a terrible team from Angola, simply because they're the best in Africa.

And, obviously, the Olympics can make up whatever rules they want to, can try to achieve goals that are not about fairness. If the powers that be believe that the sport of gymnastics is bettered by allowing Gaelle Mys into the all-around over Afanasyeva, that's their business. But then we need to stop pretending that's it's all about extolling the best in human endeavor, because that's clearly not all it's about.)

1 comment:

Citizen Carrie said...

My contribution to injustice occurred when I was 15 years old. I won my first golf trophy when I finished in 13th place out of 14 golfers. I was the top scoring girl, and the other girl finished in 14th. Only one other trophy was handed out, and that was to the boy who finished first. Some of the other golfers were not amused.

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