Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Appreciation for Gymnastics

I’ve had a chance to watch a bit of the Olympic Games from Beijing; my attention focused primarily on the gymnastic competition. Lucy was up late the other night and had the television going while she was in the other room fine tuning a map with the locations of each family in our Ward, a map which would help in the event of some natural disaster.

I’d turned in earlier and wandered into the den, our big screen television lighting up the room. There was a fellow doing a very difficult routine on the still rings, moves that required considerable strength and agility. I was impressed with the smooth transition between each deliberate position.

Thinking back to my limited experience with gymnastics in college, almost forty years ago; that can’t be right, can it? I’d convinced the coach to let me take gymnastics instead of one of the other mandated physical education classes by performing a very simple tumbling routine. I had no delusions that I was good at it; just wanted to do something different that would require more than showing up for a grade.

We warmed up with light hearted competition drills on the ropes that hung from the ceilings. I can hardly believe how quickly we’d climb; “full bite” pulls with our arms drawing up the rope without the use of our legs, they being in “L-seat” the whole time. The idea of being afraid of heights didn’t have a chance to kick in since the races were so fast as to remove that aspect of the challenge.

I had a beginner’s level floor routine, nothing that would qualify for competitive gymnastics; but enough “B” moves to show a rudimentary grasp of the sport; flexibility, composition, fluid motion and use of the space. I never did figure out how to do a back walk over; finding out in later years that my spine had an extra vertebrae reduced certain flexibility, the walk over was not to be.

The coach challenged me to put together a parallel bar routine; again, nothing spectacular by Olympic standards. I was able to do all the requirements; mount, change of direction, strength, flow and dismount. I attempted the pommel horse, high bar and still rings with only marginal success; never achieving a passable routine. I did surprise some of the others when I pulled off an Iron Cross and held it for several seconds.

I came away with a greater appreciation of the necessary discipline each gymnast must have in order to compete. Thinking back, there wasn’t a day when I wasn’t bruised or banged up from trying to nail down some new move. I practiced for hours and hours in order to obtain a passing grade and with all my effort and improvement it was clear how much better the gymnastic team members were.

When I have a chance to watch Olympic level gymnastics, routines which include moves I could only dream about doing; I tip my hat to these athletes knowing the price they’ve paid in bruises and bumps, sore ankles from landing awkwardly while learning a dazzling dismount, torn calluses from twisting and turning on the high bar, the mind control game to overcome fears and everything else that goes with gymnastics competition. They are all winners for having applied their efforts, even knowing that at the end of the competition, only one of them will take home the gold.

No comments: