Wednesday, March 7, 2012

On Scam, hype and competition

Today over at Deadspin, I have a feature about the American Cup, an "expose" of sorts about the lopsided nature of the event. Obviously, this is nothing new to fans of the sport who have a love-hate relationship with the event--we hate on the NBC coverage of it and complain about the scores being too high, but we always tune in.

As I note in the article, I think the American Cup's biggest issue is not the event itself--though it has a history of not being competitive on the women's side, more and more events these days are also struggling. In fact, two of the four World Cup events in the FIG series have been canceled. It's the coverage of the event itself that is really damaging as I noted in the piece. Gymnastics fans in particular are international. If you are a fan of basketball or soccer or baseball, etc. then you don't often have to go abroad to follow your sport. Usually, the domestic scene is large enough to occupy the fans year round.

Not so with gymnastics. Elite gymnasts are a small and well, elite, bunch. While it is possible to have conversations about just American gymnasts or just Russian ones or Romanian (and so on and so forth), to really engage with the sport, you need to talk about it internationally. The history and development of the sport is so spread out that a true fan doesn't just talk about domestic athletes. This, I believe, engenders greater respect for all gymnasts, regardless of nationality. And in turn, it angers us fans when we see these foreign athletes unfairly maligned.

Also, as fans of a sport that is judged, which is to say subjective (I know some might argue this point but there really is no getting away from it), we realize that talk and buzz are not mere entertainment. They can influence outcomes. In sports like basketball, it doesn't matter what people are saying about a player if he can't sink a shot when it counts. This is another reason that I think fans are wary when one team or gymnast gets overhyped.

Anyway, I hope that fans out there didn't mind too much taking an oft-discussed topic--the legitimacy of the American Cup--out of the forums and onto the Gawker family of sites.

(And go Gabby! I want to watch her bar routine on a continuous loop.)


My name is Carrie. said...

Stumbled upon your blog this morning and it seems we share a lot of the same gripes and likes. Namely, Tim, Al, and Elfi are nothing but detrimental to the sport (bullies!!!), and Beth Tweddle is a kickass bars prodigy. Anyway, I like the American Cup, only because it's a rare opportunity to see some gymnastics on TV. I DON'T care for the heavily American roster simply because as a fan, I want to see some great gymnastics from other countries. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a scam, though, because with its American-favored history, everyone else knows what they're getting into. I think you have to remember, it probably started out as a great way to showcase Americans and give them a much-needed confidence boost back in the day when we weren't really contenders. Post-Soviet-era, now that Americans are the consistent frontrunners, it does seem like a bit of pompous showboating.

Dvora Meyers said...

It's a love-hate thing with the American Cup. Especially before the advent of the internet and YouTube, us fans really had little to watch aside from the worlds, nationals and the AmCup.

I wouldn't call it a scam either--I was simply responding to the language that is often bandied about online. It just doesn't often feel like a real competition.

As for the commentators--it's just in poor taste. The folks over at the BBC manage to really strike the right tone-knowledge, praise and criticism. They show appropriate levels of home country pride for their athletes without disrespecting anyone else. Bravo to Mitch Fenner and Christine Sills.

Thanks for reading!

Laura Anne said...

I was reading your article - and totally agree with what you've said there and here. I watch a fair bit of gymnastics on YouTube, and the NBC commentary with Tim and Elfi in particular really bugs me. Even with their own gymnasts - the way they keep dramatising Alicia Sacramone's performance at the 2008 Olympics really bugs me. They seem to forget how consistent her performances at 2005-2007 worlds and 2010 worlds have been. I was shocked at Al Trautwig's comment on Nguyen being from 'West Germany'. That being said though I give major props to BBC commentators Mitch Fenner, Christine Still & Matt Baker I would like them to learn how to say Alicia Sacramone & McKayla Maroney's names correctly!
As for American Cup - nice for the Americans to see gymnasts and show off their routines, but for Brits, Russians - European Championships probably more important. I was confused at how Jordyn Wieber was allowed to compete at the 2009 American Cup when she wasn't a Senior. And this year, I would have liked to have seen a bit more range on the tv coverage - like Aly Raisman's vault, some more of the guys gymnastics?

Dvora Meyers said...

Laura Anne--thanks for reading.

Raisman's vault was great--she has a little leg separation during the pre-flight but a great block. Shame they didn't show it on TV.

The NBC trio has long bugged me--I've been making the joke about them and comparing them to Supreme Court justices for years--it's always fun as a writer when your "lines" wends its way into a story.

I'll forgive the Brits their mispronunciation since in every other respect, they are top notch. Knowledgeable, critical yet respectful and always classy.

I do wonder how the NBC trio plays with non-gym fans. Do non "gym" folks like them? Or do they so rarely watch the sport that they better tolerate them?