- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The endorsement: men’s gymnastics

Men’s gymnastics used to mean something. How else to explain “Gymkata”?

Surely you remember. Kurt Thomas, Mitch Gaylord, those other guys. Los Angeles, 1984. Mary Lou Retton was the star, of course, but the American men also had their day in the sun, capturing a rare gold medal.

Granted, Russia didn’t show. So what? We were too busy redeeming free Big Mac coupons to care.

America embraced the rings, the bars, the pommel horse — the latter being no easy thing, considering what one slip entails. In fact, we showed men’s gymnastics so much love that Hollywood brought us “Gymkata,” a Thomas star vehicle about a U.S. government operative — aren’t they all? — who mixes gymnastics and martial arts to butt-kicking effect.

In retrospect, the whole idea seems a little silly, like Steve Spurrier, NFL head coach. Still, it’s no more absurd than the utter indifference we show the men vis-a-vis their female counterparts.

Team USA took home a silver medal in the team competition Monday night, its first since 1984. And they did it in thrilling fashion, coming from behind in the final rotation. Yet if you’re like most Americans, you probably were too busy anticipating last night’s women’s event to notice.

During the recent U.S. gymnastics trials, NBC reportedly broadcast two hours of women’s preliminaries, one hour of the women’s final and nine total minutes of men’s action. Nine minutes. That’s barely enough time for a weepy profile, even if Dick Enberg isn’t doing the voiceover.

Look: If you get off watching teary, prepubescent girls hurl their malnourished bodies in harm’s way to win the fleeting approval of some burly, mustachioed daddy figure, that’s your business. And it puts you in the company of John Tesh. But while you’re at it, give the men a chance. You might discover the best-kept secret of the Games: These guys are really, really good.

Paul Hamm is the first American man to win an all-around world title. He could do it again in Athens. Joining him in today’s all-around final is Brett McClure, who grew up playing all-American sports like football and baseball before falling in love with gymnastics after seeing the sport at the 1991 Goodwill Games.

“Not a lot of people can relate to gymnastics because they don’t do it growing up,” McClure laments. “Especially the males. But this is a really difficult sport, one of the toughest in the world in terms of the amount of strength and mental preparation it takes to do this stuff.”

Indeed. You want tough? Hamm competes with a screw in his right ankle and a permanently damaged left shoulder. His twin brother, Morgan, fell onto parallel bars in 2001 and suffered left shoulder nerve damage. His arm was numb for four months; even now, it’s at no more than 70 percent of its former strength.

Then there’s Jason Gatson, who recovered from a recently separated biceps to score a 9.825 during Monday night’s parallel and high bars competition, allowing Team USA to move past Romania for the silver.

How many of USA Basketball’s ballyhooed NBA no shows — I’ve got bunions, coach, I can’t come to Greece — would do the same?

“We know we’re never going to be like the NFL or the NBA,” McClure says. “We do it for the love of the sport. Hopefully, if we continue the success we’ve had over the last few years at the Olympics, it will open some eyes and bring people into the sport. If that doesn’t work, then what can you do? It’s a lost cause.”

It doesn’t have to be. Tune in, turn on, drop the remote for a moment. You will be glad you did.

And as for “Gymkata”? Hey, this is an endorsement, not a blank check.

The Buzz

U.S. men, 100-meter freestyle

Down arrow

Maybe there’s a reason these guys took bronze.

USA hoops

Sideways Arrow

Ugly win, ugly team.

Ticket sales

Down Arrow

Greeks not showing up for table tennis, badminton. Can you blame them?


• Your Correspondent has been remiss. Unbeknownst to him, American tennis player Vince Spadea rapped about tennis teammate Andy Roddick during an appearance on the “Today” show. Herein, a sampling of his rhymin’ skilzz:

Roddick is the hottest product

After I played him, I needed an antibiotic

He’s not robotic

But he’s patriotic

I had a thought in my head, he hit a serve and I forgot it


If he’s in a tournament, you boycott it

Ouch. On the other hand, at least we know what Michael Phelps isn’t listening to on his iPod.

• Foreign laptops are made from titanium and Kevlar. At least, that’s Your Correspondent’s conclusion after sitting next to a number of his distinguished colleagues in the overseas press. Our international brothers and sisters have a habit of pounding the keys as if working on a 1930s typewriter — which is to say, hard enough to leave welts. Sitting at a foldout card table at the aquatic center the other night, YC was shocked when his table actually began to shake, courtesy of a power-typin’ Italian journalist. Hope it’s a heck of a story.

Also, a laughable number of foreign hacks use the one-finger, hunt-and-peck method. But that’s a xenophobic rant for another time.

• Spotted during the coastal-side ride to Helliniko Arena: A Penny Hardaway Orlando Magic jersey. Also spotted: innumerable dudes in skintight Speedos. Your Correspondent doesn’t know which sight is more disturbing.

Patrick Hruby

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