Give us the technicals

Reeves Wiedeman, who wrote a long profile of Simone Biles for the New Yorker, says how the tv coverage of women’s gymnastics is shit – it’s that it avoids explaining the technicalities to focus on drama instead, pretty much on the grounds that that’s what the laydeez want, because we’re stupid.

In defending its coverage of gymnastics and other Olympic sports, NBC often falls back on the fact that more women than men watch the Olympics, which the network believes should affect the way it covers the events. “They’re less interested in the result and more interested in the journey,” John Miller, NBC’s chief marketing officer for the Olympics, said last month, explaining the network’s coverage. “It’s sort of like the ultimate reality show and miniseries wrapped into one.”

Giggle giggle giggle.

Biles is perhaps the greatest gymnast of all time, and these Olympics may be the only time most Americans will get to see her perform. Might they want to know what makes her so good? There is, for instance, the fact that she requires fewer steps and less speed to get into the meat of tumbling runs, enabling her to fit more skills, and score more points, in her routines.

There you go. Yes, I would have liked to know that. I could see some of her amazingness just by looking, but I couldn’t see that. I could see that she was fitting in more skills, but not that she required fewer steps and less speed. Yes, I would have been interested.

The killer fact is in the final paragraph.

One of the factors preventing Americans from appreciating just how difficult it is to do what an Olympic gymnast does is the fact that competitors are expected to perform their routines without betraying any evidence of effort. Watching LeBron James drive into the lane, bounce off multiple defenders, and then rise above them seems so impressive in part because James grimaces along the way. Serena Williams growls with every shot. The effort is obvious. A gymnast, meanwhile, is expected to risk life and limb with a smile on her face. “You’re never supposed to show that it’s difficult,” O’Beirne said. She pointed out that there is no such requirement for male gymnasts. “You can trace that back to the eighteen-hundreds, when women wore corsets and they were supposed to act like they weren’t in horrible pain. Why can’t Nastia wear her bitch face?” When you’re dealing with perhaps the greatest gymnastics team of all time, explaining to Madeleine just how difficult it is to be as great as they are should be ratings fodder enough.

Good god. They’re not supposed to show the effort.

As a matter of fact I did notice Laurie Hernandez shifting from a smile to an effort-grimace during her tumbling runs. I was interested to see that, and watched for it. It didn’t mar her performance. Difficult things are difficult.

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