There, I said it.
To be fair, for the most part I am completely ambivalent to the Olympics — I don’t watch, I don’t discuss it around the water cooler, and I don’t scan the sports section of the paper to see how many medals “we” have won (“we” is odd because I had nothing to do with it and only have the good fortune to live in the same swath of 3.5 million square miles as some of the athletes).
When the US male swimmers win a gold and world record, I’m generically happy for them and can appreciate the amount of training and discipline they invested, but ultimately I’m apathetic. It’s not that I don’t like sports, as I happen to really love cycling, skating, and playing football, softball, tennis, and other sports. It’s not that I think that placing so much emphasis on physical prowess causes us to lose focus of the importance of mental prowess (though I do think an Olympics of Smartness would be rad). So why the “hate” in the title?
Because of girls’ gymnastics.
I know a lot of people already vocally criticize the “sport,” but I still feel a need to add my tiny voice to the fray. Girls’ gymnastics is depressing to watch. Old men pushing girls’ frail little prepubescent bodies far beyond their limits, causing serious injuries that last a lifetime. People actually cheer when a little girl snaps an ankle and fights back the tears to go out and win a medal for her country, her trainer, and maybe herself. Ugh.
This year is particularly bad, when the Chinese have probably fudged records to let girls as young as 14 compete when the minimum age is an already-too-young 16. The girls are at risk to be abused by managers and simply injured or killed with a single misstep, and no matter what they’ll lose a large chunk of their childhood to endless hours of training in gyms. And for what? The best a girl can hope for is a medal and the happy feeling that comes from knowing you’re good at something. There are so many more important things a girl can be good at that it’s just a stupid, pointless waste to risk it all on a balance beam.
I can’t really add anything more to this side of the discussion, because so many ex-athletes and others have done a better job of it than I can. Here’s a great NY Times opinion piece about the topic. I should mention that I was inspired to write about this today after reading a post on Jezebel with this wildly ignorant statement:
But, despite Buzz Bissinger’s scathing New York Times column from last week decrying the many corrupt elements of gymnastics — the eating disorders, the injuries, the possibility that the Chinese are allowing underage girls to compete — if you watch Shawn Johnson’s near-flawless balance beam performance in yesterday’s qualifying round, all that criticism falls away.
I’m horrified by the idea that the very just criticisms of this cruel sport fall away because one girl met the ridiculous standards of the judges. The writer of the piece is the same woman who previously wrote rather ignorant things about freedom of religion. I really, really wanted Jezebel to live up to its claim as a blog for smart women but instead again and again I’m disappointed.