Guys, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Gymnastics are awesome.
Nobody ever hears about gymnastics outside of the Olympics, but trust me, it is something unforgettable to see in person. I had the good fortune of having (really good) tickets to the men’s individual all-around finals on Wednesday night. I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’d never seen a gymnastics event live before. Walking into North Greenwich Arena I was impressed by the set-up, but had no idea what I was looking at. There were some bars, some mats and some rings but I didn’t know how they were going to be used.
I attended the event with three other students from my program. We had just spent the afternoon hanging around the entrance to the Olympic Village, which is where the athletes stay. We didn’t have passes to go inside, but there were plenty of athletes coming and going. We took pictures with Japanese track runners, an American shot putter, and some Argentinean basketball players. A pin trader displaying his impressive collection gave me a London 2012 pin for free, which started my own collection (I now have four.)
By the time we got to the arena I was pretty excited. Gymnastics is one of those events you hear about during the Olympics. It’s one of the sports people talk about on the streets and follow on live chats throughout the day. We were lucky to have gotten these tickets; the few remaining seats available were going for about $630.
And our seats were awesome. We were in the lower bowl, the first section off of the floor. Our seats were directly behind the horizontal bar station. We could see everything, and even more importantly, take pictures of everything.
When the gymnasts came out to the loud rhythmic clapping of the spectators, my focus was entirely on John Orozco. He was the only male gymnast I’d heard of before the event. A 19-year-old from the Bronx, Orozco was the popular U.S. choice for medaling.
Orozco was in the first group, and their first event was the floor routine. Maybe this is something those watching at home can’t quite grasp, but there are four different groups of about six gymnasts who rotate to different stations around the arena. While Orozco and his group were on the floor, another group was on the pommel, a third was on the rings, and the fourth was on the vault. It was impossible to keep an eye on all the action all the time.
I found myself getting more and more enthralled. I was learning about the sport while I was watching it. When Orozco stumbled on the pommel, struggling to rise into a handstand, I knew he’d lose a huge amount of points. When a Japanese gymnast stuck his landing after spinning off the parallel bars, I could tell he’d just moved up in the standings.
I was also becoming more and more impressed with the gymnasts themselves. The sheer athleticism on display was staggering. The strength, precision, and flexibility required for this event were beyond anything I’d ever seen.
One gymnast in particular began to stand out. Danell Leyva of the United States started to make a case for himself. Like Orozco, Leyva struggled on the pommel, but brilliant routine after brilliant routine brought him back into the running. He became my medal choice. His final station was at the horizontal bar. His coach (who is also his step-father) hugged him, kissed him on the forehead and then lifted Leyva onto the bar. If Leyva wanted a medal, he couldn’t hold anything back. This was his final chance to break into the top three.
Being the tallest gymnast there, Leyva shouldn’t have been as good on the bar routine as he was, but he flipped and flew and spun around like he was weightless. By the end, when Leyva stuck his landing and pumped his fists toward the crowd, his step-father was running back and forth along the platform, screaming and shouting and grabbing anyone within an arm’s length to hug.
When the final scores were tallied, Leyva was in third place. He went home with the bronze. I watched him receive his medal and salute the fans with his bouquet of flowers.
Am I a gymnastics fan now?
I’m not sure. There’s still so much about the sport that I don’t know, but I will say this. Those couple of hours I spent at North Greenwich Arena were the most entertaining hours of this trip by far. If I get the chance to go see a live gymnastics event some time in the future, I’m taking it. You should too. Trust me, it’s worth it.