Olympic Decisions.

Qualifier coverage is ramping up with the London Olympics looming mere weeks away. In the pool, Michael Phelps is working to qualify in enough events to go for eight golds again. For track and field, hurdler Lolo Jones was able to nab an Olympic team spot last weekend despite injury concerns. These stories are certainly notable and available, but one (summer games) sport in particular seems to enrapture the world every four years – and that is gymnastics.

For a sport that so few have access to throughout most of the year (from both a viewing perspective and via direct involvement), gymnastics owns a cult-like following when the Olympics roll around. There is a crescendoing buzz surrounding the women’s trials (which begin this evening at 9 PM on NBC) – who the favorites are, who will make the cut, who can make a comeback. The drama surrounding the team selection intensifies this year in that the pool of competitors is so strong, yet for the first time, only five girls can make the team. Until 2000, the squad consisted of seven. From 2000-2008, six girls could make the cut. But now it is down to five. In a sport where consistency is strived for yet unpredictability reigns, choosing the five representatives that will attempt to bring team gold to the USA for just the second time ever (1996’s Magnificent Seven were the first and only… cue memory of Kerri Strug’s vault) is a daunting task for head coach Martha Karolyi (who will actually have four choices to make after it becomes clear who wins the individual all-around – an automatic bid).

L to R: Gabby Douglas, Jordyn Wieber

The biggest rivalry for the all-around title will almost certainly come down to Jordyn Wieber (the reigning World Champion) and Gabby Douglas (nicknamed the “Flying Squirrel” for her unreal bar routine), two incredibly talented 16-year-olds, both of whom will likely make the squad no matter who takes top honors this weekend. With those two spots all but locked, the three girls who will make up the rest of Team USA is anyone’s guess. In the Olympics of years past (with larger squads), one or two-event specialists would often be selected. But this year, that tactic seems wasteful.

L to R: Bridget Sloan, Alicia Sacramone, Nastia Liukin

Ali Raisman, Kyla Ross, Elizabeth Price, and Sarah Finnegan are all strong candidates for the 3-4-5 spots, but they will also be competing against 2008 Beijing olympians Nastia Liukin, Alicia Sacramone and Bridget Sloan – all trying for comebacks. Trying might be as far as that goes though – the aforementioned “strong candidates” all finished ahead of the Beijing competitors at the Visa National Championships earlier this month.

I remember hearing many years ago that enrollment in gymnastics goes up in the year that follows the Olympics. I never saw it in my gym, and I’m not sure if that statistic is even true, but I could believe it. Little girls across America watching only slightly bigger girls performing indescribable feats of athleticism on pieces of wood and leather, chalk clouds erupting from grips slapped together pre and post bar routine. The thud of 90-odd pounds of muscle slamming into a bright blue mat, stuck landing, emphatic salute. Who wouldn’t want to be able to do that? I have had my share of angst when it comes to this sport, looking back at the sheer amount of time dumped into something so far off the general radar, something so unbelievably challenging. But I believe I am better for having been a part of it, and you can be damn sure I’ll be watching every second of it I can.

 

Finally an Appropriate Finale?

see ya.

Finally… I have posted a new blog entry! But more importantly, FINALLY (starting in 2014), college football will have a playoff to determine the national champion. The BCS (computers) will be no more, and the automatic qualifier status that favored specific conferences has also been vaporized.

The BCS system has long been scrutinized by national media and fans alike, and for good reason. Here’s a fun example of why it did/does not ensure the best two teams me(e)t in the championship game – a decade ago, Nebraska lost its final game of the regular season by a horrendous 62-36 margin and STILL played in the 2002 championship game. No surprise, they were pulverized in said championship by Miami. Nebraska’s making the championship game in 2002 specifically displayed the culmination of an egregious systematic error, but year after year, great teams are getting leapfrogged by lesser teams based on polls and rankings and automatic bids that cheapen the prior season of play, not to mention make little sense.

The new playoff plan, approved Tuesday by a committee of university presidents, will consist of two national semifinal games (four top teams – #1 vs. #4; #2 vs. #3), and the winners of each will meet in the finale.

There are certainly some questions that still need to be answered (like how teams will be selected, and how the money will be doled out… and what the hell are they calling these playoff games?), but this is officially huge.