Aug. 24, 2008
Rhythmic Gymnastics. It's the most feminine of all sports. All of the competitors are women. The gymnasts perform elements that can only be done by women. The judges... are all women. The judges can change their minds during the individual final competition one day, and then change their minds about changing their minds during group finals the next day. I can say this because I am not married. And now I have assured that I will never be married again.
My "seriously all choked up" story of this competition wasn't over the controversial scoring of Ukrainian Anna Bessanova's performance "with clubs" during the individual final, but what happened in the much-less-publicized qualification competition the day before.
Almudena Cid ( "al-moo-DAY-na SEETH" ...her name sounds much prettier than it appears in print ) of Spain has been gracing the Rhythmic Gymnastics field of play throughout Europe and around the world for many years. She's 28 years old. That's 10 years older than the just-crowned Olympic champion from Russia.
Cid ("SEETH") had been struggling through her second day of qualification, having to untangle her ribbon in mid-run during her final routine. Each routine is performed with a different accessory (told you this sport is feminine). Actually, they call them apparatuses. The other accessories - apparatuses -- are rope, hoop and clubs.
Knowing that this could, indeed, be her last appearance of an amazingly long career in a sport that requires back-breaking and hip-popping flexibility, she came prepared. When the music had ended, she rose from her sprawled pose and saluted the judges. Then, taking everyone by surprise, she centered herself on the competition floor, knelt down and kissed the surface, the same surface that had been her stage for twice as long as most others in the same career path.
My first thought: "Don't do that! It smells like feet, for goodness sakes!"
Two days prior, I spent the better part of a morning with my team of Chinese student announcers on the scripts which they had worked long and hard to prepare. The most changes needed were to the biographical background announcements. They just needed some help with prioritizing the bulletpoints and the relevance of the information. Much of it was specific to the particular performance accessory. Apparatus.
As Cid ("Seeth") rose from this very moving gesture and slowly walked off the floor, most likely for the final time of her career, we filled the arena with, "Almudena Cid has competed in four Olympic Games and nine World Championships" in Chinese and English.
She, too, must have been certain that this was the last hurrah in her amazing career. What nobody expected... or noticed... was what she had scrawled on her ribbon long before this apparent swan song. Unnoticeable when moving swiftly during Cid's performance, the pattern on her ribbon was revealed as she sat in that made-for-TV "kiss and cry" area that gymnasts must adore no end. It included a beautifully-created legacy of this willowy wonder of the competition floor written in large script. Cid unfurled the mysterious silvery pattern, revealing the quadrenniums frame-by-frame. It read "Atlanta 1996... Sidney 2000... Athens 2004... Beijing 2008."
I'll admit it. It took me a little while longer than usual to introduce the next athlete.
Here's the irony: After having to sit floor side with the other competitors and watch the sport's "murderer's row" perform their routines while reflecting on the last 13 years, Cid would be as taken by surprise as the kiss-and-cry cameraman had earlier in the evening. She had indeed qualified for the finals... as the 10th place and last selection.
The finals started the next day.
The question on everyone's mind was, how would Cid be? Would she allow her emotions to take over?
If you call grit and determination emotions, then yes, she did.
She showed that same form she had four years earlier as a young 24 year old girl in Athens, equaling her 8th place finish and just missing out on 7th -- by 0.75 (68.85 -to- 68.10).
Not sure how this all played out in the USA on NBC (if at all), but this was to me the Olympic moment of the Rhythmic Gymnastics competition.
I'm hoping you'll entertain one final report on the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games that might be written while leaving Beijing and distributed after the jetlag wears off. I appreciate your many encouraging comments and valuable feedback of life back home during my stay, and can't wait to catch up with all of you in person when I return...
...and the jetlag wears off.