Okay. We're all thinking it so I'm just going to say it, get it out of my system and move on as if it never happened.
First, a disclaimer: I absolutely respect and admire the talent, training, athleticism and dedication involved with any sport. Even rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Actually, especially
rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized swimming. Some of the stuff they make their bodies do is freaky weird, and in the team competitions they have to perform those freaky weird moves in perfect synchronization with the other team members. I fully understand how difficult this must be, even for skilled athletes.
They're the butt of jokes and not taken seriously as "real" athletes. Which is a shame because the moves they're doing are really difficult.
It boils down to their "uniforms." I truly believe they'd be taken far more seriously if they weren't wearing hysterical costumes and garish makeup.
Yep, marketing baby, marketing. Pare down the costumes, leave the blue eye shadow and glitter bronzer at home. Ta dah! A) Viewers will focus on your athleticism instead of your appearance; and B) You won't be the source of sniggers and raised eyebrows on the medal podium. (Unless you have a, erm, "moment" like Henrik Rummel.*)
Here are a few cases in point.
Synchronized swimming. I know slightly more than the average Jane about this, and not just because I enjoy Esther Williams movies. I spent summers of my years 8 - 13 at Girl Scout camp wherein several hours a day were devoted to swimming skills. There was a big camp finale the last day of camp wherein feats of skill and daring were showcased. A mini-Olympics of sorts. I was also on my high school's swim team. In both these scenarios the subject of synchronized diving and swimming arose. I attended camp with a close friend. We were BFFs from the time our mothers got together for tea and put us in the same crib for naps. We took our swim lessons together, we practiced together in backyard pools, we perfected acrobatic tricks on the same swingsets...so we had an innate symbioses. The synchronized diving and swimming should have been a cinch for us. And, we were, you know, good. Ish. But. Synchronized anything
is very, very difficult. Add water, above and under, and lemme tell you, it's difficult. We spent every moment we could get in a pool or lake during the off season to work on our routine for camp the next year and we still a) sucked and b) almost drowned. We took home the "silver" a couple years and "gold" our final year at camp, but that was primarily because a) we handcrafted bedazzled bathing caps to wear during our final routine and the judges gave us credit for our arts and craft ability and b) our toughest competition gave up mid-way through their routine because one of them inhaled water and almost choked to death. Don't let the sequined bathing caps and nose clips fool you, scary stuff, this synchronized swimming.
My high school swim team scrapped the attempt at synchronized swimming after three practice sessions, and we weren't even going for fancy choreography. We were just aiming for an athletic showcase number for an end-of-season swim meet. 12 girls attempting to swim in a circle, submerge and break the surface at about
the same time. That was it. Basic stuff. Two girls, regional swim team champs, no less, nearly drowned trying to manage that basic two minute routine.
So. Huge props to the synchronized swim teams. I know you're athletic and skilled and the teamwork involved is phenomenal.
But if you wear outfits and makeup like this, you can't blame casual observers for writing you off as disco in the pool.
|I call this, "Ode to Tammy Faye Baker." |
|Yes, that's a hand making a grab for their lady regions. Discuss. I desperately want to believe the scary anime faces on the Russian team's boobs are an homage to traditional folk art Matryoshka dolls. But. As the team dove and emerged, splashing all the while, the faces on their suits looked like additional team members. Siamese twins attached at the boobs, bobbing in and out of the water in perfect synch with the team. It was hugely distracting. And nightmare inducing. |
|Why the exaggerated eye shadow ladies? Why?|
|And this kind of behavior isn't helping end the "it's not a 'real' sport" comments and jokes.|
The Chinese swim team (non synchronized) had perfect swim suits. I liked them. They were athletic but had a little flair that invoked dragons and water, but didn't distract from the athletes' moves. Something like that would be ideal for synchronized swimming. A little flair, but basically utilitarian and not a distraction from the skills being performed.
Okay, let's talk rhythmic gymnastics, shall we?
I will open with the admission that I am fairly clueless about gymnastics. Like most girls at my school, I took "tumbling" intramural sessions when I was young. But when, at age 8, I was already as tall as (or taller than) most Olympic gymnasts, it was obvious gymnastics wasn't in my athletic cards. (Ditto figure skating.) However, until I injured my ankle/foot a few years ago I could still turn a perfect cartwheel (which is where I focused my years in intramural tumbling). The training stuck with me. And thus concludes my knowledge of gymnastics.
I do, however, recall how hard the gymnastic girls trained. My friends and I stood against the wall of the school gym, slack-jawed awestruck, and marveled at what those girls, girls we knew
, were doing. Handsprings, flips, twists, crazy scary stuff on the balance beam, weirdo tumbling dance moves. On the playground the gymnastics girls flipped and twirled around the monkey bars. Most of them needed help reaching the higher monkey bars. If I was feeling charitable I'd help one of them reach the higher bars...and then they'd flip and twirl and do some freaky crazy shit on those bars. Sure, I could reach the highest bars, but my attempts to flip and twirl on them ended with painful crotch slams and me eating a dirt sandwich. I eventually wrote it off as a shorter girl's game and gave up. I could turn a perfect cartwheel. That was good enough for me.
A couple girls I knew went on to train and compete at state meets. One even went to "nationals" a few times. And they had to learn how to do the rhythmic stuff - the swilly ribbon, the dances with ball thing, the hoop stuff, all of it. I watched them practice during gym class (from the safety of the badminton or fencing areas) and I know it's not as easy as it looks. It looks stupid but it's difficult.
The image problem, as I see it, is threefold. 1) The props; 2) the dance aspect; 3) the costumes.
Ribbons, small children's play balls, brightly colored hula hoops and those juggling pins don't exactly scream, "Years of training, skill, agility and strength worthy of international competition." Props of any kind tend to reduce a sport to "leisure activity." Why not a jump rope event? Why not a plate spinning event? Or ring toss? Oh, I know, what about a blindfolded pin-the-medal-on-the-gymnast event? Props (especially silly ones like play balls and juggling pins and ribbons) add an element of hokey to the whole thing. Is this an Olympic event or a Gallagher tribute? Like the costumes, props are a distraction. Viewers end up focusing on the props instead of the athlete, and the takeaway is, "It's just ribbons and balls and hula hoops and juggling pins. That's stupid and doesn't belong at the Olympics."
|It all comes down to this moment. In her mind she hears a stern Bela Karolyi-esque coach yelling, "Use your eyes to make love to the sparkly ball! Jazz hand, dammit, JAZZ HAND!!" |
|So, does she work children's parties with Lolo the clown on weekends? If they have to use juggling pins could they at least use pins that don't look like they came in a Fisher Price playset with ring toss and bubble wands (ages 18 mos. - 3 years)? |
The girls are such good gymnasts that they make it look easy, as if contestants voted off Dancing with the Stars
could head over the the gymnastics hall and win a consolation prize in rhythmic gymnastics. All that's missing is scores for best jazz hands. I know that's not the case, one look at these girls' muscles and flexibility tells you there is some serious training going on behind the scenes. But they're choreographed and they use jaunty, sassy dance moves between the gymnastic moves and that makes it seem, well, kinda cheesy and just glorified dancing.
This year, especially, the moves and held positions are, well, in a word, pornographic. And it's not because my mind is in the gutter. Most of these routines look like an interpretation of Whitesnake videos. Take a look at these stills. I dare you to look me in the eyes and say men around the world are not jerking off while watching this. I felt like I needed to leave a stack of dollar bills on top of my television after watching some of the routines.
|WTF? No really, WTF? "Just squeeze, squeeze, squeeze your way to thinner thighs!"|
|I once took a stripper aerobics class. Don't judge me. My friend had a free coupon. The teacher, an actual stripper, showed us this move as a pole dismount. |
|The sexual metaphors write themselves. |
|Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.|
Mainly, though, I blame their image issue on their costumes. Like synchronized swimming, the costumes have to be seen to be believed. And they're a huge distraction from the athletes and their performances. The 2012 batch of rhythmic Olympians really went for the gusto in their costumes. They took it so far beyond lace and rhinestones that it's difficult to articulate what they wore.
|Maybe This Time... If the whole gymnastics thing doesn't work out she has a bright future as a dancer in Cabaret. Five, six, seven, eight and leap and twirl and leap and twirl... |
|Anyone who's ever attended a Greek wedding doesn't need me to explain that she's on the Greek team.|
|I have no idea what's going on here, or how it's in any way athletic, but the costumes are awesome.|
The Israelis, however, get my vote for the gold. Their dominatrix outfits, complete with harnesses, cement the reputation as, "The Sport of Strippers." Bondage fans the world over rejoiced when the Israeli women took the mat.
|The classic, "Sacrificing of the Dom" move. |
Okay. Got that out of my system.
Ladies of the pool and mat, I admire your agility, strength and athletic prowess. I really do. I'm just saying, you know, from a marketing perspective, there are some tweaks you could make to improve the reputation of your sports.
And by the way, in lesser known women's sports, the US women's basketball team is doing fabulous and poised to bring home gold. You go, girls. High five. Literally.
*Okay, since we're getting it all out of our systems, here...we have a pretty good idea what sort of heat a lot of the spandex and lycra clad male Olympians are packing. (the popularity of men's swimming is not due solely to the US medal dominance) In re: Rummel: If that thing's not fully loaded, I, for one, would like to see a comparison of what kind of heat he packs when he is
, erm, cocked and ready.)