Saturday, January 31, 2009

Standing on Ceremony ( Or...A Confession.....)

Headline: The Couch Gymnast Caught in the Arms of Another Sport!

Okay guys, I have to admit i have been neglecting gymnastics a little the past week or so.  
And to tell you the truth, it's not just because i have been far, far away from the internet (which I was, truly!) but also because i was being unfaithful.
But really, you try NOT getting sucked into the tennis when the Australian Open is being held practically on your doorstep, the television, newspapers, people on the street never shut up about it, and all these insane, exciting matches are being paraded around in front of you like sporting floozies on the television, just begging you to watch and distracting you from homework, housework and your one true love, your gymnastics blog.  I tell you,  it is very, very hard not to stray!
Anyway, I am not just writing this to make a confession about my fickle and traitorous sporting fandom (though it got so out of hand that i even refused a shift at work because i didn't want to miss William and Safina in the finals!) but also because of a little something i noticed during my adulterous wanderings. And it's all about medal ceremonies.

So yesterday, i was Youtuber-ing around looking at the tennis at the Beijing Olympics and i noticed some stuff.  For one thing, though i understand that the reason the big tennis stars don't always do the Olympics thing is because it isn't part of the WTA touring they have to do all year round and all the important raquet-ty business they must carry out to make ridiculous amounts of money and qualify to make even more in the grand slams. I get it.  I do. Unlike gymnastics, where the Olympics is as important as all get-out, it just ain't much of an event for elite tennis.  
But then lots of big names turned up at Beijing this time to compete and i wonder-what changed?  What gives?  (But i guess that's a question for the tennis blog i may start when i remember how much i love it at next year's Australian Open when i plan to buy tickets, forget to do it and wind up glued to my tv all next january too!)

Anyway, gymfans THERE IS A POINT TO ALL THIS!!! and it does relate to gymnastics.
In my Youtube jaunts i saw a couple of the tennis medal ceremonies and a couple of things struck me.
  The first was that the women's singles podium at Beijing kinda resembled a gymnastics podium from the seventies or eighties with its all-Russian presence on the podium.  We saw a lot of that with the Russians and Romanians back in the day, didn't we?
The second thing that got me was that the tennis players seemed to have no idea how to behave at the medal ceremony. I guess it's because they don't do this podium business very often. They are usually just getting handed a big fat trophy at courtside after the game and then handed an even fatter cheque to go with it!
I can't even comprehend not knowing the whole medal ritual, though.  I have watched so many medal ceremonies in my gymnastics fan-nery that i reckon if they needed someone to fill in for Nastia on that podium I could march out there in time, remember not to pick my leotard out of my nethers, turn and wave flowers, shake hands and look gracious like a well-trained monkey in a heartbeat! 
Well not so for everyone.  The Russian tennis ladies were a bit of a shambles.  Both Zvonareva and Safina had their hands in their tracksuit pants pockets all through the announcing of the presenters just like teenage school boys.  Dementieva was wearing her pants all hiked up at the legs (just like a teenage school girl!)  and Zvonareva actually tried to walk straight out onto the podium when they walked out there  (though she was not the only one, Federer and his doubles partners did it too.) and had to be told by an insanely smile-y Chinese lady to get down and wait until they were called!  
This was all rather amusing, as you can imagine and it made me wonder if gymnasts are trained for medal ceremonies with their nifty little marches, their automated turns to greet the other half of the stadium and their synchronise flower waving?  They always seem to know what they are doing.  Perhaps they could take the tennis players in hand and give them a few tips.

BUT the thing that struck me most was that when each of the tennis players got called to the podium, they just climbed right on without shaking hands or congratulating the player before them.  So at first i was all like, "Wow, tennis players are r.u.d.e.'  
I am so used to seeing gymnasts march around and shake everybody's hand or give them the little old europeans kiss-kiss business before taking up their own spot.  Then usually, after the anthem of the moment there's plenty of yanking the other girls onto the gold spot with you and waving at the crowd.  
Well there was none of that in the tennis ceremonies (though back in 2000 Venus Wiliams did give Seles and Dementieva impromptu little squeezes before climbing up- when they used to call gold first) 
Even the Russian tennis girls, who you think would be pretty rapt to have gotten the trifecta barely looked at each other till after the ceremony.  Only then did they hold each others hands, salute the crowds and pose cheesily and uncomfortably with their medals for the media.
It isn't so much the not knowing what to do, but the lack of congratulations that got me. 
 Then I thought maybe it isn't just tennis, maybe it's all sports?

So, being the good little investigative blogger i am, i climbed back on board the Youtube train and hunted out medal ceremonies, which wasn't easy.
So it seems ice skaters congratulate each other, and so do table tennis players for that matter. But athletics people don't do the march around and handshake with everyone.  Neither did the judo people i saw.  Or anyone from the field events. Some swimmers do.  Some don't. There were nice, spontaneous moments of course, like Cathy Freeman comforting the completely overwhelmed Jamaican woman who got silver in the 400m in Sydney even though Cathy was the one getting gold.  But generally I find there is a lot less of the cheek-kissy congratulations stuff that goes on in gymnastics- and definitely not anything as ritualistic as the way the gymnasts carry out the medal ceremonies.
Until now, I had no idea that this well-rehearsed process of receiving medals was unique to gymnastics, but it seems to be the case. 

When and why did this ritual start i wonder?  Maybe all sports were like that in the past, but it has died off?
Part of me thinks it's lovely that each gymnast must congratulate the other before celebrating their own victory, and it certainly looks very ceremonious with them all marching in unison to the podium and doing the same things.  
It's a display of good sportswomanship that seemed to me to be just slightly lacking (only comparatively) in some other ceremonies i saw.
But on the other hand, it takes away the spontaneity of the moment too. 
Is it now so automatics, so ritualized, that the warmth and camaraderie it represents is actually no longer there?  
Probably not.  But I do know that when i think of medals ceremonies, i think of the moments that stood out from all the handshaking and flower-waving.  Here's a list of some of the more interesting podium moments for me;

1. The Russian girls pulling off their silver medals.  Okay, so maybe it was a bit of bad  sportsmanship, but god i loved those girls!  They were just so fiery and Russian!

2.  Kerri Strug being carried onto the podium has to go up in second place.  What a moment!  Apparently she can't really remember any of the medal ceremony to this day.  But who else could forget the insane cheering of the home crowds at her stellar, injured performance?

3. The Brazilian crowd booing the U.S team at the 2007 Pan Ams ceremony. A lot of people complained about the Brazilian crowds, and i just thought they were being narrow-minded about the way different cultures watch sport.  But booing?  Really?  That was a bit rough.

4.  Gotta have Nastia at Beijing in here.  It made me so overwhelmed to see her so caught up in the moment, chest heaving, tears in eyes as she accepted her all-around medal.  It was truly lovely to see her being so... well... human.

5. Seeing Gina Gogean actually smile when getting her gold medal at the 1997 Worlds medal ceremony.  I nearly fell over.

6. Semenova, PanPan and Zgoba being awarded their medals at the 2008 Moscow World Cup bars ceremony by Khorky.  Seeing their little faces light up when they heard her name was so freaking cute!  (So was Zgoba whispering and giggling stuff to Semenova, while Ksenny's trying to be the good girl in class and look straight ahead and not answering her)

7. The three legends, Korbut, Comaneci and Ungareanu standing together on the beam podium in Montreal was just awesome.  It was also fascinating to see the already excited crowd cheer for Comaneci's perfect scoring beam gold, but then to cheer even louder for the effervescent Korbut when she got up for her silver. A testament to her awesome popularity.

8. Oksana Omelianchik and Elena Shushanova climbing into the gold spot together at the Montreal Championships in 1985, kissing each other and giggling as if to say, "Hee hee, here we are up here together again.  How funny!"  They were so cute!

9. Dina Kochetkova NOT kissing Dominique Moceanu in 1995 at Worlds  when she kissed and shook hands with everyone else in the line!  Weird.  I can't tell if she just though Americans don't do the euro kiss, or if she just messed up, or if she simply didn't want to!  Very strange!

10.  Khorky horsing around on the 2004 Athens Team medal ceremony, particularly her cracking up laughing at Ziganshina when she saw her in her silly olive wreath head thingy they gave all the athletes.  It was hilarious.


  1. Khorkina's always weird during medal ceremonies.

    In the 1992 rhythmic AA, Carolina Pascual of Spain came in second ahead of Oksana Skaldina, which was controversial. Oksana was rolling her eyes throughout the ceremony, and when it was her turn to receive her medal (gold was given first and bronze was given last), she only congratulated Aleskandra Timoshenko, her teammate who won the gold. The Spanish crowd started booing her. Here's the video:

  2. just watched it. wow. what a narky little miss that girl was! Poor Timoshenko. must've ruined her gold buzz!

  3. thanks, this was a very educational/enlightening/interesting post! thanks for blogging for us gym fans! :D

  4. Perhaps this is on the wrong post but I'm sure you'll see it either way!

    Here is another suggestion for pretty leotards! I hope you still consider this one even though the Anna Pavlova heat has already taken place :P Also, I suggested this last time but I found a better picture of it I think!

    Anna Pavlova pretty in turquoise!

    Hideous leotard suggestion:

  5. I bet they don't train for it, but by the time you make it to the Olympics you're used to winning medals. I saw a medal ceremony the other day where this American gymnast, Amanda Jetter had no clue how to conduct herself. I think it was her first international competiton becuase when she was presented a medal she grabbed it and put it around her neck. oops.

  6. Another interesting Olympics podium moment is the medal ceremony in 1968 when Vera Caslavska (TCH) looked away when the anthem of the Soviet Union was played (in protest to the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia that year).