Aly Raisman to claims she lacks artistry: "You know what's really unartistic? Falling." [Gym Examiner]
Above is the fake headline I came up with that Blythe over at Gym Examiner put in her funny recurring feature about made-up gymnastics headlines. This line really sums up why I love this gymnast so much--she seems to be one of the few that remember that gymnastics, first and foremost, is a sport and being the belle of the ball doesn't matter all that much if you keep falling on your ass or if your teammates can't rely on you to hit when it counts. Aly just knows how to hit and it's been a long while since we've seen a gymnast like her. You know, the type that doesn't make your heart leap into your chest every time she mounts the apparatus, that doesn't aggravate your acid reflux.
As to the claims of her lack of artistry--well, I'm not going to argue that she is particularly artistic, whatever that means. I will say that athleticism is beautiful and she has that in spades. The beauty that Raisman brings to the sport, to the height of her somersaults is as gorgeous as watching Michael Jordan pushing past his opponents to make a layup. (I'll let David Foster Wallace describe this sort of aesthetic: "Jordan hanging in midair like a Chagall bride, Sampras laying down a touch volley at an angle that defies Euclid.") These examples aren't pretty in the classical sense of the word but pretty and artistry are not necessarily synonymous.
And let's not forget the falling--nothing is more disruptive to the flow of a performance than an actual stop. A fall mars a routine much more than an unpointed toe. It's not just about loss of points when this happens. It's about how the performer loses the audience, too, who up until that moment had following raptly. That's very unartistic if you ask me.
Am I going to argue that Aly has the best form and execution? Hell no and she should be deducted for those errors. But artistry is more than form and flexibility.
And this current crop of Russians, though possessed of lovely flexibility and toe point, are by no means the artistes that their fans hold them out to be. (I don't think even the most ardent fan after hearing Komova's hellacious new music and accompanying "choreography" could call her routine artistic. But I'm sure some will try.) Though we wish them to be, they are sadly not the inheritors of the stunning Soviet legacy. (Long live the 1989 World Championship Team Gold Medalists!)
And none of today's Russians are the Second Coming of Anna Pavlova--the ballerina or the gymnast.