I’ve been watching Olympic gymnastics online everyday, to see the new performances from the night before. I wrote about it a few days ago – how great it felt to watch the men’s team perform in the all-around finals. After the first few days, it was really making me itch to get back to the rink and to maybe even train and think about some recreational adult competitions. But now my feelings are changing a bit – after watching the women’s all around final, and the women’s team final. With the men’s competition, it was much easier for me to just enjoy their display of athletic excellence – to watch their ridiculously strong, muscled bodies performing feats of strength and acrobatics.
But with the women’s competition, all sorts of other emotions are stirred up. I can’t extricate my enjoyment of their graceful and athletic performances from my concern over the immense pressures and stresses they all clearly face, as well as the physical evidence of what they’re putting their bodies through to reach this level. Also, there are parts of olympic gymnastics that seem even more cruel than figure skating – the shortness of the time they are actually in the spotlight, particularly for those members of the team who only competed on one apparatus in the finals; the team dynamic aspects of the team events; the intensity of the olympic team selection process (in figure skating it’s nearly always the top finishers at Nationals who carry on to the Olympics in that year, although the sport’s governing body, the USFSA, reserves the right to change that and did the year that Nancy Kerrigan couldn’t compete at Nationals due to the knee injury). The commentators seemed particularly unhelpful in creating an atmosphere of friendly, healthy competition – I couldn’t believe the questions the interviewer asked Alicia Sacramone after her performance in the team final. Seriously, the interviewer just kept asking her questions that basically forced her to talk about the negative aspects of her performance – I had to turn it off eventually. That was NOT what I wanted to know about her after the performance!
For the most part, I am very impressed by the American team; the athletes seem to not only have come well-prepared and ready to medal, they also have been exhibiting excellent sportsmanship. I like to think that maybe at least some of them have managed to reach this level of elite gymnastics without causing themselves too much mental and physical distress. It’s encouraging to me to think that. But I definitely know a lot about the pitfalls that many less well supported and mentally strong athletes have encountered. Watching these girls perform, I remembered my own experience with gymnastics, and of course my experience with figure skating, with eating disorders, and with the cutthroat competitive atmosphere that one can often find amongst the competitors and their parents.
I watch them and remember how I enjoyed swinging around on the uneven bars, tumbling and jumping on the springboard floor, and dancing on the high beam. I think to myself “that would be fun to do again!” but then I remember that I’m a full-figured woman now, and that the physics of the situation will definitely make it hard to do some of the things that I found most fun. It’s harder to enjoy the feeling of flying through the air when I know that I won’t be able to rebound as high or swing as fast as my more daredevil childhood self could, and that the likelihood that a fall or misstep would end in a more painful injury is much higher.
I’ll definitely be sticking with skating then, because at least I can fall back on my years of serious training to hope that I don’t injure myself. Ever since I quit training competitively, I struggled to enjoy the sport without feeling loss and sadness at all the things that I used to do well in it but no longer can do. I’m proud to say that I think I’m getting fairly good at that – enjoying each and every movement that I can do for the joy that I can feel in the practice itself.