Week of August 12, 2016

Can’t stop. Won’t stop. John Rose Oval style.

Simone Biles: The Greatest Gymnast of All-Time

Look, I am well aware of recency bias, especially in sports. But GOD DAMN. This week, Simone Biles won the Olympic Gold Medal in the all-around competition by 2.1 points over the Silver Medalist (and Ryan Rowe’s  Heartthrob), Aly Raisman. 2.1! That’s a larger margin than the gold medalist beat the silver medalist in every Olympics from 1980 to 2012…combined. Truly historic. And this is not a fluke. Simone has been destroying her competition for the last three years, including winning the last three World Championships.

And for a little historical comparison, here is the winning vault at the 1968 Olympics next to the winning vault at the 2012 Olympics:

So, gymnastics is only getting better, and Simone just somehow took a gigantic leap ahead of everyone else.

Ahead of her curb stomping of the rest of the world, the New Yorker profiled Simone, and it’s worth reading. Biles has had an amazing young life – before she was The Greatest Gymnast of All-Time, Simone was born to a drug and alcohol addicted mother, and was placed in foster care with her sister. Her grandparents later adopted her, and Simone considers them her parents. But there are a lot of insights into what it takes to be a world-class gymnast, as well. For example, Simone has a boyfriend, and her coach told him, “I think you’re sweet, but if you screw with her mind I will kill you.” Simone says that getting ready for competition involves “repeatedly convincing yourself you aren’t going to die.” Luckily, she is persuasive, because she goes out there and does things that are frankly unfathomable:

“I kind of blow my own mind…I wish I could crawl out of my skin and see it happen from a different perspective.” She says that during her tumbling runs, “the only thing she sees is the colors of the ceiling and the floor, whizzing past in revolving blurs.” Simone Biles is awesome. -TOB

Source: A Full Revolution”, Reeves Wiedeman, New Yorker (05/30/2016); Companion Video: The Mind-Blowing Athleticism of Simone Biles”, Reeves Wiedeman, New Yorker (05/27/2016)

PAL: Great profile on a great athlete. Really well written, too. Biles is pushing the sport to new frontiers, no doubt, but I’m excited that I finally understand the new gymnastics scoring system: “The new system, laid out in the Code of Points, is an open-ended one, in which gymnasts are given two marks: one for execution, worth up to ten points, and another for difficulty, which is theoretically infinite.”

That makes so much more sense than the old 10-point system!

A gymnastics podcast nut put in this way: “The code was a fantasy—a perfect, unattainable ideal. Then Simone was born, and the code became a reality.”

Historically Historic Perspective

Michael Phelps broke a record that’s stood since well before the birth of Christ. For real. Until tonight, the most individual Olympic “wins” was 12. Why do I say “wins” instead of “gold medals” – because medals weren’t given out until the beginning of the modern olympics in 1896.

The record Phelps broke was held by Leonidas of Rhodes. He dominated the Olympics…in 160, 156, and 152 BCE. Michael Phelps is awesome. – PAL

Source: Michael Phelps Tied (Broke) A 2,168-Year-Old Olympic Record”, Barry Petchesky, Deadspin (08/10/2016)

TOB: I’ve come full circle on Phelps. I rooted for him in 2004. He was overexposed in 2008 and so I was secretly hoping he’d lose one of those eight events. In 2012 I thought he was washed up and felt a little bad. And now he’s (maybe?) better than ever, with a good shot to pick up his fifth and sixth gold medals of these Olympics. At 31! Amazing! (What’s not amazing is naming your kid Boomer, I mean…c’mon) But I think the most amazing stat about Phelps is that he has appeared in 26 Olympic finals…and he’s won 22 golds, 2 silvers and 2 bronze. Of his two non-medal finals, one occurred when he was 15. Incredible. Even though I think that swimming medals are inflated by the insane variations they create, with every conceivable distance for four different strokes and every permutation of relay and medley and medley relay you can possibly think of, Phelps still has to go down as the greatest Olympian of all-time.


In the 2012 Olympics, American Jordyn Wieber was ranked 4th in the All-Around qualifying but did not qualify for the All-Around final. 21 gymnasts who had lower qualifying scores did qualify for the finals, though. Why? Because for some insane reason only the top 2 qualifiers from each country qualify for the finals. Sometimes sports have rules so dumb I can’t even comprehend why they exist, but at least, I figure, they will get fixed. Not so in this case, because the same friggin thing happened this Olympics. This time the victim was American Gabby Douglas, the defending Gold Medalist in the all-around. Douglas’ qualifying score was the third highest, and she did not qualify for the finals. 22 gymnasts with worse qualifying scores did qualify for the finals, though.

This is so utterly stupid. I get that they don’t want one country to sweep the medals, but that is entirely antithetical to the spirit of the competition. Change the friggin rule. I’ll check back in with gymnastics in 4 years. Let’s hope they right this wrong. -TOB

Source: A Bizarre Rule Will Keep Reigning U.S. Olympic All-Around Gold Medalist From Defending Her Title”, Cork Gaines, Business Insider (08/08/2016)

PAL: This reminds me of The Avery Rule, and by that I mean this is so obviously an absurd rule that they could have simply changed two days ago and no one really would’ve put up that much of a stink. It’s absolutely horrible to think that competitors – from any country – prepare for a moment that comes at best once every four years, who then don’t crumble under the unbelievable pressure but rather perform at a level that earned them a spot in the finals, and who are then undone by some b.s. youth sports rule that’s prioritizes representation over excellence. Did they hand out orange slices on the podium, too?

History’s Forgotten, and Hilarious, Olympic Events

Over the years, the Olympic Committee has added and removed Olympic events as it has seen fit. For example, baseball and softball were discontinued a few years back (they’ll be returning in 2020). But some of the events that we’ve lost are far more obscure, and sound hilarious. For example, Plunge For Distance, held only in the 1904 Olympics. What was plunge for distance? “A diver leaps from an 18-inch platform and has 60 seconds to travel as far across the pool as possible without moving his arms or legs.”

What in the actual hell? What a bizarre event. It must be reinstated! In 1922, an author criticised the event as “not an athletic event at all”, but a competition favoring “mere mountains of fat who fall in the water more or less successfully and depend upon inertia to get their points for them.” Yes, precisely why I want to see it. Other long-forgotten Olympic Events: Tug of War (YES), Dueling pistols (YES!), Horse High Jump (HELL YES!) – TOB

Source: The Olympics’ Sad History of Defunct Medal Events”, Adam Kilgore, The Washington Post (08/05/2016)

PAL: First:

  • No: plunging, baseball, golf, synchronized diving, soccer
  • Yes: Tug of War, Wrestling (always!), HHJ (Horse High Jump to you amateurs).  

At its best, the Olympics inspires national pride in all the best ways. It’s also very good that the Olympics exposes us to random-ass sports. We need to keep space for these fringe sports, which is why we really don’t need baseball, golf, or soccer in the Olympics. These sports have their stage, so I vote we leave some room on the Olympic stage for the oddball sports.

Video of the Week:

PAL Song of the Week: Fela Kuti – “Zombie”

Check “Zombie” and all of our weekly picks below:

“Their daughter told my son that he looked like Tom Petty and in a negative way.”

– Catherine

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