Controversy, Heartbreaks and Silver: USA Women's Gymnastics

Eilyn SeguraCorrespondent IAugust 13, 2008

       The Americans were destined for gold. They were the favorites, but a few mistakes cost them that medal. So why does silver feel like a huge disappointment? Almost feels like they didn't even place. As a former gymnast myself, I understand what it feels like to perform under pressure. Sometimes you come out on top, sometimes you don't. I just wish last night we had. It broke my heart a little to watch them fall apart at the very end, but there's always a silver lining, and that's just what we got.

     The Americans were the favorites to win the gold medal, and going into the third rotation they showed the world why.They had a great competition. All of their vaults were solid. Their vaulters had been; Shawn Johnson, Bridget Sloan, and Alicia Sacramone. The mistakes that usually plagued the Americans on vault, such as landing on their behinds, and taking huge steps, had been avoided, and instead they had near perfect vaults.This was a great start for the Americans, because this, their first event, was usually the most nerve-wrecking, and because China had Cheng Fei a World Champion on vault.

      The second rotation on bars was stunning. Awe-inspiring. The Americans and Chinese were head to head in what I consider the most beautiful display of artistic gymnastics to date.The American bar workers had been, Chellsie Memmel, who later revealed she has a small broken bone in her right ankle, Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin. Nastia's routine was transfixing.She had perfect lines and releases and unlike preliminaries, her dismount was perfect. She received a 16.900, the highest score of the night. On bar, Americans had averaged a 15.900, a great score. Not to be outdone, the Chinese were great on bars as well, with some new skills never before seen.

    Then came the third rotation. The always feared four-inch-wide balance beam. The Chinese had a fall on beam from Cheng Fei, which seems to have rattled her teammates, who received deductions for bobbles and balance checks on the apparatus. A window of opportunity had opened for the Americans. And just as quickly as it had opened, it was shut and locked.

      As the Americans came to their third rotation, stakes had been raised by the Chinese  mistakes. First on beam was Alicia Sacramone. According to the broadcasters, she had been strong during her warm up, with an air of confidence about her that ought to make this a good routine. As she went to mount the beam, her right foot totally missed the beam, and try though she might to stay on, she fell, an automatic .8 deduction. Rattled by this, she had one other small mistake, a balance check, but everything following that fall had been near perfect, including her dismount. It was hard to watch her on beam, because she had been on the verge of perfection one second, and on the verge of tears the next. Her face said it all.The next two routines were by Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson, both of whom seemed to thrive under the pressure, delivering near perfect routines to try to relieve the stony looks on their teammmates' faces. It was ok, the Chinese had fallen, the Americans had fallen, in a sense we were more or less even.

     Then came the fourth and final rotation, my personal favorite event, the floor exercise. This is where we would see what the Americans were made of. They needed to make up 1.000, which on floor, is a lot to ask. First up; Alicia Sacramone. Watching her, I recall thinking, so far, so good, until the second tumbling pass that is. It was in this tumbling pass that her feet slipped from underneath her, and she landed, essentially, on her back.When she got up,she was not the same person. She finished her routine without her usual punch, and got off the floor, kneeled in front of a wall trying, i presume, to take in what had just happened. Truthfully, she looked slightly bewildered as she came off the floor, as if she was confused, almost dumb founded. Both teammates Nastia, and Shawn, stepped out of bounds during their routines, proving that they were shaken up by what had just happened.

    Its hard to watch someone like Alicia mess up like that. Kind of disheartening. She had worked so hard to be there, after not even making it to trials in the year 2004, she worked her butt off and made it all the way to the Olympics. She is the team captain and the spiritual leader for the team, their personal cheerleader. She was on the verge of tears the whole rest of the night, and from time to time she'd apologize to her teammates, because its not just a personal let down, I think what hurt her the most was the fact that she let down five other girls that wanted it just as bad as she did. In a sense she probably feels she let down the whole country, seeing as she was the only one that made any mistakes. This gymnastics heartbreak is probably why silver didn't feel like a medal to me, or for many others,  because they could have done better.

     In my opinion, the Americans were the more deserving team. They had no two-time Olympians, they were all green and they were all OF AGE. Now you may think, age is nothing but a number... wouldn't you want the older more experienced athlete out there anyway? Truthfully, no, not when it comes to gymnastics. Pre-pubescent girls have an advantage in gymnastics in that they are shorter, often times lighter and are full of energy, with no fears. Now, I'm not saying that older gymnasts aren't as good, I am simply stating that younger girls have the advantage. Height becomes a huge factor on balance beam, and so does confidence. Somewhere between twelve and sixteen, gymnasts become scared to fall, scared to disappoint, more-so than when they are kids. I mean, you cannot deny talent, and as we all saw, those Chinese girls are talented. Nastia was just as talented when she was fourteen, but was not allowed to compete. I think the bigger issue isn't even the girls' age... I think it is that the IOC (International Olympic Commitee) created a regulation that they cannot control. While I agree that there should be an age limit, seeing as these events and all the pressure can cause emotional damage to a young athlete, I also think that this age limit should be reviewed. There is NO way those girls were 16. I think that is an insult to the world, almost like a slap in the face.

      At the end of the day though, those twelve-year-old girls took home the gold, and our girls, through much heartbreak, brought home the silver. Talent is one thing you cannot deny, and that is one thing that all these girls posses. Our girls still have individual competitions to look forward tomorrow night, and I expect we will medal in some, if not all of those events. As for Alicia Sacramone, she is a great and accomplished athlete and though right now she probably doesn't think so, she truly lives up to her status as team captain. No number of falls can break or change a person's character, or how much they care about their team. Gymnastics, though a part of their lives, does not define these girls, and they will continue on to be great in whatever paths they choose in life. There's always a silver lining, and theirs was hung around their necks last night.