I was unable to make it to this year's local stop of the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions when it rolled through Brooklyn because I was out of town. But had I been able to attend, I know that I would've thought it was sort of ridiculous yet not care because I was getting to see the Olympic team (at least a few of them) perform. And honestly, when it comes to gymnastics, I possess the critical faculty of a thirteen year old girl. Which was the age I was when I attended the post-Olympic tour in 1996. But I wondered--what happens if you aren't blinded by your love for the sport? What would the "normals" make of the tour?
Well, thankfully Tanya, a good friend attended the final stop of this year's show (oddly enough, not at my behest) and was kind enough to write a review of it coming from a non-gymnastics addled perspective. Here's what regular folks think:
Last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the Kellogg's Tour of Gymnastics Champions at the spanking new Barclay's center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The stadium was grand and impressively efficient. The gymnastics show on the other hand--embarrassingly lacking. A great idea, but who was in charge of planning such a poorly executed spectacle? It's really hard to say which part of the show was most unimpressive. Let's take a look at the contenders.
It could have been the lack of technical rigor visible to the naked gymnastically untrained eye. While it is completely understanding that athletes remove all elements that might cause injury, what we unfortunately ended up with was Alexandra Raisman's gold medal winning floor routine, sans the tumbling. Really--none! And if you have watched the Olympics- you might remember that her routine is very tumbling heavy. She did not put any extra visually fun dance elements, so it seemed that all that remained were the awkward leaps and jumps.
Very little uneven bars action, very little beam action as well, no dismounts of any sort. The guys team and rhythmic gymnasts were a bit more fun to watch, partly because of the skimpy outfits they were wearing and partly because guys seemed to be doing more challenging elements.
The planning of the visuals was quite terrible. At one point there were 4 US women’s Olympic team gymnasts performing on 4 beams, while a hot blond was doing aerial tricks in the middle up above. C’mon, who is going to look at anyone else when a vision of hotness reincarnated is doing splits in the air right above? (Ed. note: that must be Nastia Liukin) I would be surprised if anyone even noticed that there were gymnasts on the beams! The lighting was also dim, and sometimes that made it hard to make out the athletes. In fact, in one of the numbers, the rhythmic athletes were completely obscured; only their glow in the dark hoops showing. What a waste! That probably would have been one of the most visually appealing five minutes of the show, judging from the elegant movements I could barely detect.
The clown was absolutely terrible; he dressed up as a giant weird baby (Ed. note: that must be John Macready) made noises and spent nearly half of the total show time trying to make very silly and unfunny jokes. I get it--lots of people brought their children to the show, but it was a little bit embarrassing to watch. At one point, the "baby" took a man from the audience and tried to teach him how to do a floor routine. It was not obvious that it was a random man from the audience and not one of the coaches or some person connected to the tour, the point and humor were completely lost.
It could also have been the general confusion of who is who and why are they doing weird things (such as random break dancing on the floor alongside a rhythmic gymnast doing her beautiful routine). For example, along with various gymnastic champions, a random breaking group was hired for some unknown purpose. For the entire show I thought that Nastia Liukin was some random vaudeville dancer they found to add “hotness” to the show. It wasn't until the end of the show when they called out the names that I realized who she was. Alicia Sacramone did not even do a single gymnastics element, I barely remembered where she was in the show.
Having said all that, it was wonderful to see Alexandra, Abby, Nastia and others live. I think many people also learned of a few new sports such as rhythmic gymnastics and trampolining, which I am told is now an Olympic sport. And the male team did perform enough with their shirts off, which partly made up for the less exciting parts of the show.
But this is all pretty faint praise. I still want my money back.
I know this is a pretty harsh review and Tanya fully concedes that she may not be the target audience, especially for Macready's brand of "humor." Yet her reaction, which I imagine would've been similar to mine if I could view the show critically, speaks to a larger issue in the branding and professionalization of gymnastics. If these type of shows can never appeal outside of its hardcore fan demographic, what hope do we have of making this type of show popular in a mainstream capacity. Or is Cirque du Soleil it for professional/theatrical presentations of the sport?
And one more point that my friend made about the lack of difficulty on the tour--while safety is an incredibly important consideration, why would we think that even untrained and unskilled viewers would want to watch low level athletics when they just spent two weeks this summer watching them do much higher level skills? They are educated enough to know better (and can simply turn to YouTube to watch much better gymnastics).
So how do you put on a show that has mainstream appeal while also keeping the athletes safe? How do you expand gymnastics' fan base during non-Olympic years? Or should we stop trying to move beyond the tween demographic, at least in our professional presentation of the sport?