Saturday, January 14, 2012

2012 Olympic Preview: Gymnastics

Happy New(ish) Year!  2012 promises to be an exciting year to be in London.  In addition to the summer Olympics and all the surrounding hoopla and cultural events, the city will be celebrating the Queen's diamond jubilee and Charles Dickens' 200th birthday.  Josh is excited about the biannual Farnborough Air Show -- especially since he works right next to the Farnborough airfield.  And all this is on top of the myriad of festivals, sporting events (like Wimbledon), and other fun stuff that happens here every year.

Of course, all this puts a lot of pressure on London, a sprawling city of 600 square miles with nearly 8 million inhabitants.  Ever since we arrived more than 9 months ago -- and I'm sure well before -- the city has been making preparations.  The Tube, the world's oldest underground rail system, is being upgraded; popular tourist areas are getting spruced up; and the Olympic organizers have been holding a series of "test events" to make sure they have everything running smoothly in time for the 2012 games.  These events are like a dress rehearsal for the Olympics, providing an opportunity to test out the various venues, transportation systems, equipment, and other logistical issues.  Since we applied for tickets to the Olympics, we get emails alerting us when tickets will go on sale for these test events, so I made sure to be home in front of my computer when they released tickets for gymnastics, diving, and velodrome.  Good thing, too, because I think they all sold out within 20 minutes.  I couldn't navigate the site fast enough to get cycling or diving tickets, but I did manage to snag 2 tickets to gymnastics.  Of course, there was no information as to what, exactly, I would be seeing, but I figured it would still be fun to go, even if I ended up watching people bouncing on a trampoline, or dancing around with ribbons and a ball.

When they released the schedule last week, I discovered I had lucked out.  The day I had tickets for was the women's artistic (regular) gymnastics Olympic qualifying event!  Not only did I dodge the rhythmic/trampoline bullet, but I'd be seeing potential Olympic athletes compete.  Yay!

The event was at 4:30 on Wednesday afternoon, so Josh was initially planning to work from the London office and take off a little early to join me, but a few days beforehand he told me he had a 4 pm meeting in Farnborough, so there was no way he could make it.  It wasn't hard to find someone from the American Women's Club to join me instead.  I met Erin at Waterloo station at 3 pm on Wednesday, and we took the Tube out to the O2 Arena in North Greenwich.  Neither of us had been there before, although I'd seen the former "Millennium Dome" several times from different vantage points in the city and on the Thames.  It was very easy to get to, and I hope to have other opportunities to see events or concerts there.

The event was general admission, so we got there just as they opened the doors and found good seats just a few rows up from the front.  We ended up sitting right in front of the fan club of a young British gymnast named Jocelyn Hunt.  It was a very enthusiastic group, with flags and handmade signs.  While we were waiting for the competition to begin, one of the presenters filmed a segment with the group, interviewing the girl's father and -- I think -- her childhood coach. 
Presenter (short dark hair) interviewing gymnast's dad
When the event began, four groups of young women marched out into the arena.  There was a team from Italy, and three groups of mixed competitors from different countries.  We learned that the Italians were competing for one of four team spots remaining in the 2012 games, while the rest of the women were competing individually to qualify for a spot in the all-around competition.  Several of the teams had already competed earlier that day, so we would get to see the final results.

This was the first time I had been to a live gymnastics competition since I was in college.  I'd seen Olympic gymnastics on TV many times, but it's a very different experience watching it in person.  On TV, they show one apparatus at a time, but in reality, everything is happening simultaneously, so it was hard to know where to focus your attention.  The announcer, who we never saw, only introduced whoever was doing the floor exercise, but we also tried to watch the performances on the vault, beam, and uneven bars.  The other difference from TV is that we got to see ALL the competitors, not just the ones who were expected to win, or had a compelling personal interest story.  There were Olympic hopefuls from Kazakhstan, Mexico, Vietnam, Argentina, Uzbekistan, Israel, Sweden, and many other countries that aren't known for producing world-class gymnasts. 
Lots going on all at once!
Impressive way to balance on the beam!
Slovenian gymnast struts her stuff
After the four teams had finished all four apparatus, there was an hour and a half break -- during which we got something to eat -- and then four more groups marched into the arena to compete, including teams from Brazil and South Korea.  At the end of the final round, the results were in.  The four teams going to the Olympics were Italy, Canada, France, and . . .  Brazil!  I have never seen such an excited group of teenage girls -- and that's saying a lot!  Since the 2016 games will be in Brazil, that must also give them hope of having a team compete on their home turf in four more years.
Team Brazil celebrates
We stayed to watch the medal ceremony for the teams.  The music sounded oddly familiar.  I nearly spit out my bottled water when I realized where I'd heard it before.  It was the soundtrack from the final throne room scene of Star Wars (Episode 4: A New Hope).  Sadly, Princess Leia did not come out to present the winners with their medals.  I couldn't decide whether it was awesomely appropriate for the occasion, or wildly inappropriate.  Either way, I couldn't help laughing.
The medal ceremony
Raising the flags for the Italian national anthem
By the time the ceremony ended, it was after 9:30 pm, so we made our way back to the Tube and headed back to our respective homes.  The Tube was a little crowded, but not unbearably so, and the trip home went smoothly after a brief delay at the North Greenwich station.  I definitely got my £20 worth from the event -- which is more than I can say for the £10 I spent on food there -- and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the 2012 Olympics will go just as smoothly this summer.  I can't wait!


  1. Not a single one of those gymnasts had been born when Star Wars came out. I'd be very surprised if any of them recognized the music, but I'm sure their parents did!

  2. Haha! I was thinking that, too!

  3. The US gymnastics Olympic team-selecting event is going to be held in San Jose in a few months.


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