Saturday, July 28, 2012

I'm only a man in a silly red sheet

"30 minutes until the U.S. men and Kohei Uchimura make their Olympic debut," tweeted Gymnastike.

Being the snarky bastard that I am, I inquired, "Will the rest of Team Japan be competing, as well?"

Always quick with a joke, the silver-tongued Dvora Meyers added, "Uchimura will be doing all the routines on every event. He is that good."

Spirits high and expectations even higher, the Gymternet and I turned to our janky live feeds of the competition. As I tried to piece together the routines between ads and buffering problems, I saw the impossible happen: Kohei Uchimura fell off high bar. I couldn't believe my eyes, so I turned to Twitter to verify. Yup, Superman had just fallen off the high bar. "Shock!" was the exclamation that Andy Thornton tweeted. Nancy Armour was a bit more prolix, typing, "Wow. Just Wow. Uchi fell on his 4th release move." 

I said nothing. Dumbfounded, I just sat there and waited to see how others would react. I think that Nancy Armour was the first to cast off her shock and think rationally. She added, "Uchimura is world silver medalist, but he has been struggling here in training. Still, stunning to see that obvious an error from him." In her tweet, you can see her fighting with herself. History told her that Uchimura was indeed fallible, but a part of her did not want to believe it.

Nancy Armour, like the rest of us, expected the Japanese gymnast (with bed head) to get up on that bar and catch all his releases. She, like the rest of us, expected him to stick all his dismounts. And she, like the rest of us, expected him to qualify for several event finals. 'Cause that's what Superman would do. Wouldn't he?

I mean, it's what he had done in the past, and thus, it's what we have come to expect of the 2009, 2010, and 2011 World All-Around Champion. And it's not like he merely eked out a win. Oh, no, he destroyed his competition, defeating his opponents by several points. In fact, he could have fallen in any of those competitions and still won.

We don't expect those results from mere mortals. We expect those results only from those with super human talent. Perhaps that's why we call him Superman. But is his track record the only reason? I don't think so. Personally, I think that there is a deeper reason--one that speaks to how we see the state of men's gymnastics as a whole. In order to dig further, we have to think about what it means to be Superman. As I have suggested, Superman assuages our desire to be unbeatable, but he is more than that. We must not forget that superheroes are meant to save people. In this case, though, I don't think that it is a person as much as a sport that needs saving.

Blythe Lawrence's quick hits touch upon this issue. In podium training, she called Kohei Uchimura "technically perfect," and after seeing a Japanese gymnast muscle his way through his high bar routine, she wrote, "This is why we love Japanese gymnastics: Even when a guy has to muscle up to handstand, as one of the Japanese just did on high bar, it's beautiful."

The subtle implications of her statement fascinate me. Essentially, she is saying, "The Japanese men--unlike the majority of the competitors--are beautiful to watch and technically precise."

Indeed, in an era where Zou Kai cannot point his toes, in an era where Marcel Nguyen cannot keep his legs together, in an era where Oleg Stepko and his ilk cannot compete a vault without cowboying--that is, in an era when it seems like gymnasts have to sacrifice execution for the sake of difficulty, we want someone to prove otherwise. We want someone to prove that male gymnasts can have it all--both difficulty and beautiful execution.

And that's what Kohei Uchimura represents for us. He is the person who can save us from the current state of gymnastics, and that's why he is our Superman.

But today he proved that he's only a man in a silly red sheet, and now that we have seen that side of him, the question is, How will we react? Will we forget that he is vincible? Or will acknowledge that he is a mortal--just like the rest of the field?

1 comment:

  1. I think your analysis is brilliant. It is bang on. It seems ridiculous that we now "need" a green/yellow/red light system to tell fans if it was a "good" routine. I pray JPN comes back and wins it, to inspire a new generation of gymnasts to appreciate form, line, and artistry vs the biggest baddest skills. The judges also need to start taking deductions for form breaks, and stop taking them when they shouldn't "just to stay in the execution mark ballpark".