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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Pig Gymnastics

Or maybe the "gymnastics skins game." While NBC tries their hardest, and with plenty of success, to add tension and drama to gymnastics, I think there is plenty of room to make it both a much fairer and more exciting sport. One of the screwy parts, to me, is that the competitors do completely different routines, yet get judged on the same scale. Another is that the scores, at least for the top competitors, are all crowded around 9.5 to 9.8. (Diving doesn't seem to have this problem. A gymnast takes a step on the landing and loses a tenth of a point. A diver makes a little splash and drops from an 8 to a 6.)

I watched just a little of the men's highbar apparatus final last night. American Paul Hamm did a fairly spectacular routine, featuring several release moves where he lets go of the bar, flies over it, and grabs back ahold of it on the way down. Well done, and he stuck the landing. The judges gave him a 9.812. Then Italian Igor Cassina gets up there. He looks to be spinning around the bar about 50% faster than Hamm. He also has release moves, but instead of just flying over the bar, he's doing multiple twists and somersaults on each one. At the end, he's just whirling around the bar at an enormous rate, goes flying into the air doing some amazing twisting somersault--and takes a step on the landing. Really, there was no comparision. As good as Hamm was, Cassina just flat out blew him away. A comparison in baseball would be watching Ichiro bat, and he lines a single to centerfield. Very impressive--9.8. Then Barry Bonds steps in, and hits the first pitch 500 feet into San Francisco Bay. He pauses at home plate to admire his home run, and the judges take a tenth of a point deduction--9.8. If Hamm's routine was worth 9.812, Cassina's should have been about a 13, even after the deduction.

So here's my idea. Make gymnastics like "pig," the basketball game where when somebody makes a shot, everybody else has to make the same shot or they get a letter (P-I-G). Once you've spelled the whole word with three misses, you're out of the game. Wouldn't it have been more exciting to see Hamm, Cassina and the other gymnasts challenging each other with ever more difficult maneuvers than to just go out there and do their own thing and leave everything up to the judges? Certainly it would seem more fair, and there would be much less controversy over who won.

That's your sports break; now, back to the news!