America was about to compete against the Chinese “Women’s” Gymnastics Team. After a brilliant vault, Deng Linlin of China returned to the sidelines to be greeted and congratulated by her teammates.
The American team was nearby, and what was absolutely apparent was that the American team all looked 16. Most of the Chinese team barely came up to the American Girls’ shoulders, and looked to be between 13 and 14 with the exception of Deng Linlin who looked all of 11 years old.
The minimum age requirement for women to be considered eligible for Olympics competition in gymnastics is 16, and somehow almost all the Chinese girls have passports that confirm they are exactly 16. These, of course, were printed by the Chinese Government. The International Olympic Committee has chosen to trust China to be honest in this competition despite how obvious the violation is.
The USA Team Competes
First Vault by an American was Bridget Sloan. She jumped a perfect vault, and although a little off center on the landing, stuck it well within the line. Her total score 15.200.
Shawn Johnson vaulted next, leaping and tumbling perfectly in the air. The difficulty on Shawn’s vault was greater, and as she landed, her legs crossed. Despite the slip, her score for this incredible jump was 16.0.
Alicia Sacramone was next. Her vault was nearly perfect except for a small hop at the end. That would cost her 1/10 of a point. But the difficulty was high and she totaled 15.675, placing the team ahead of China, but both China and the US were trailing Russia.
Chelsie Memmel, a world champion on the uneven parallel bars took the floor. Because of an injury, Chelsie would only compete in this event. Therefore, the bars would be everything for her and her only contribution to the team. This would be her last Olympic exercise, and she was near perfection. Her landing motionless. Her score, 15.725!
Shawn Johnson was quick and smooth in her performance and did a dismount that is among the hardest in the competition. She nailed it without so much as a ripple. Her score, 15.350. This was disappointing after that great dismount. It was difficult to explain this low score.
Nastia Liuken is stellar on the bars, and she executed a routine that is incredibly difficult. Every move was perfect. She fell on her last dismount in the qualifying round. Not this time. Score, 16.900, as close to 17 as we have seen. As she stood awaiting her score, Nastia stood behind Deng Linlin. Deng barely reaches the bottom of Nastia’s neck.
The next challenge for the Americans was the balance beam. Alicia Sacramone fell off the beam. And her look was total disgust. She fell just jumping on the beam and lost 8/10 of a point to start. Her dismount was amazing, but it would be negated by the poor beginning. Score 15.100.
Liukin had to save the day and started well, but lost her balance half way through. Despite the slight slip, her dismount was perfect, and it needed to be. 15.975.
Shawn Johnson finished up on the beam, beginning with three backflips executed perfectly. She hit every move and then landed with only a slight step on an incredibly difficult dismount. Score, 16.175.
After the beam, the separation between China in first and the US in second was only one point despite the “Sacramone”ous fall. If Alicia had not slipped on the beam, the US would likely be ahead.
The Americans’ Sacramone began the floor event and could not shake the nerves. She fell backwards, landing on her behind, after a double forward flip, losing 8/10 of a point. The upset from her prior fall was probably just too much for her to handle, and you know she was devastated. That fall likely gave China the gold, barring disaster. She was brilliant in the rest of the exercise, until she stepped out to lose another 1/10 of a point. Everything that could go wrong did. She knew she had just lost the gold for her teammates even after all the years of practice, and at 20 this is likely her last Olympics. She was afraid to look as the score posted at 14.125, a score the rest of the team could not hope to make up.
Nastia Liukin was next and stepped out on her first move, losing 1/10 of a point. The exercise was beautiful, so hopefully, she could score well, but it likely wouldn’t matter after the disaster in the first exercise.
Shawn Johnson is the World Champion. But even perfection could not win this for the Americans if it were not accompanied by disaster for the Chinese (such as their true age being revealed maybe)? Even Shawn stepped out on the first pass. 1/10 point gone. The entire team was rattled by Sacramone’s heartbreaking performance. Alicia was holding tears inside, and the other girls felt it. Shawn did well, but NBC decided a commercial was more important than displaying her score.
Why This Competition Was Unfair Before the Olympics Even Started
Bela Karolyi, the former coach of Olympic gold medalists Nadia Comaneci and Mary Lou Retton, was interviewed before the Chinese performed, and said, “This young Chinese team (is) using 14-15 year olds, all kids, they have no pressure…”. When asked if he believed the Chinese team was cheating, he said “that is obviously documented. Half the Chinese team is underage.”
Karolyi followed the event with the statement, “I have to comment the Chinese Team, (are) good kids; nothing to say about that. Too bad they are underage and should not be legally accepted…”
In other words, it is too bad that we allow the Chinese to cheat right under our nose and do nothing about it. The Chinese Girl’s Olympic Team Gets the Gold.
And so we leave you. The US did not execute their best game, but they also could not choose from the same range of talent the Chinese could. The age limit should either not exist or be universally enforced. Anything else is clearly unfair to our athletes.
Photo Credits: Lluis Gene / Al Bello / Getty Images