Random Observations from the Men’s Gymnastic Trials

Jason Horton, Olympian

The men’s gymnastics team trials finished up on Saturday at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, and this event both wows and frustrates me. The athletes were fantastic – everything around them? Not so much.

Congratulations to Paul Hamm and Jonathan Horton, two of the members that were named to the team on Saturday. Hamm, the reigning Olympic all-around champ, has a broken hand but should be in good shape come August. Horton has been around the gymnastics scene for years, but this is his first Olympic team.

You have to feel for Raj Bhavsa. In 2004, he completed a fantastic trials. He hit every routine but didn’t score highly enough to automatically make the team. For some reason, he was not named to the team going to Athens. This year, he again had a fantastic trials, and still, didn’t automatically qualify. He is a dynamic performer, and clearly has some determination to come back four years later. I hope that he gets his name called today.

The broadcasting team of Tim Daggett, Al Trautwig, Elfie Schlagel and Andrea Joyce on the sidelines might be the most grating combo of announcers among all Olympic sports. To start the broadcast, Trautwig set up a quote from Leonardo DiCaprio from Titanic. As he was setting it up, my mind ran through all the memorable quotes from that atrocious movie, and I couldn’t think of any that fit the Olympic Trials. Then Trautwig comes out with “This is it.” You needed to watch Titanic to come up with that one? Andrea Joyce shows little by way of interviewing skills, which are kind of important in a sideline reporter. She asked David Sender, the reigning U.S. champion who sprained his ankle and had to withdraw from competition, to talk about what it felt like in his heart and his mind to have to withdraw from competition. He did a nice job answering her, and she reworded the same question, so that the poor kid basically had to say again, “It sucks.” Luckily for her and the tweens everywhere watching this, he answered her in a nicer manner than I would have. When talking to Horton right after he was named to the team, he started to answer that he couldn’t describe his feelings, but was clearly still answering her question when she prodded him like a nagging mother – Come on, try! It is going to be a long two weeks in August with her on the sidelines.

I am puzzled as to why they hold this event at all. It only yielded two team members for a team that needs six members! To automatically qualify for the team, the gymnast must place in the top two all-around, and place in the top three in at least three of the six events. After that, the team is decided by a committee from USA gymnastics. I completely understand why this is done – it ensures that the team members offer maximum medal potential and can bring in points to help the team. My question is – can’t they do this with the U.S. Championships, which were held a month ago? Then let the team start focusing on training, and not the stress of making the team.


7 Responses to “Random Observations from the Men’s Gymnastic Trials”

  1. 1 sam June 25, 2008 at 11:02 pm

    I guess you meant David Sender when you wrote “John Sender.”

    They have trials for a lot of reasons. It makes sense, especially for the men, who tend to be older (in their 20s) and have 6 events to contend with instead for 4 like the women (teenagers) have. A selection camp like the girls have, where they’d have to perform 6 events at their very best day after day for several days, would inevitably result in injuries for the men.

    The trials supplement the U.S. Championships. Both are qualifying events for making the Olympic team. The selection committee considers scores from both. Each day of trials counts 30%. Each day from Visa championships (aka national championships) counts 20%. It makes a lot more sense to have 4 qualifying events rather than just two, but that said, it also makes sense to have an look-see flesh check in June before making a final decision, which is another purpose that trials serves.

  2. 2 Chitown Chick June 26, 2008 at 2:35 am

    Thanks for the correction, and all the info, Sam. I guess I like when scores decide who goes, and not people. People are fallible, political and can be swayed by emotion. Scores do not.

  3. 3 sam June 26, 2008 at 4:06 am

    In gymnastics, scores are definitely fallible. Judging gymnastics is more like judging TV dramas or German shepherds than judging a footrace. Like figure skating, gymnastics is a subjective sport where the winner is determined by opinion of a few select people (the judges). There’s no objective definitive, such as finishing in the shortest time. The new code tries to make scoring more objective, but there’s still plenty of subjectivity, and even the efforts at objectivity are controversial — do they encourage athletes to emphasize daredevil stunts over artistry and grace, for example? In any sport that doesn’t have a finish line, there’s always going to be controversy.

  4. 4 Kim July 3, 2008 at 1:56 am

    I know this isn’t a main point in this post, but the broadcasting team currently is just….annoying. They say the dumbest things. Make drama out of nothing. Sometimes it’s quite funny–other times we’re asking “did they really just say that?” My favorite example of this in recent memory was last year in 2007 when Nastia Liukin was coming back from her big injury and was at that time 18 years old (gasp!) and “old”–competing against 15-year old Shawn Johnson. But throughout the Nationals and Worlds broadcasting and fluff pieces, they just kept trying to play out the old vs young drama and that surely Nastia Liukin was done with gymnastics or something. But then as the 2008 season started and Nastia was doing really well and even won American Cup they were just stupid. In an interview right after she won, she was just so excited that she was ‘back’ physically and was so glad since so many people were doubting her the year before. And the stupid commentators said “I don’t know who could have ever doubted her!” Like, they were the ones who were pushing that the year before.

    Anyways, can you tell I am not fond of the commentators? Might have to mute the tv throughout the gymnastics portion. 🙂 Though I’m looking forward to the fluff pieces on Shawn Johnson because I think it would be quite the “story” to tell about how her likeness will be carved in butter for the Iowa State Fair while she’s at the Olympics. Just a note–I’m a big fan of hers–but of all things for NBC to choose…that would be hilarious.

  5. 5 Chitown Chick July 3, 2008 at 7:19 am

    I am praying that we get to hear/see/read more about the butter Shawn Johnson. I appreciate living in a country where Olympians are carved in butter.

  6. 6 CJ in Chicago July 3, 2008 at 9:34 pm

    Please note the photo is of Jonathan Horton

  7. 7 CJ in Chicago July 3, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    And you thought Shawn melted the hearts of American before…

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