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Favorite/Least Favorite: United States Women’s Gymnastics Team Edition

Just enough Aly Raisman, not enough pommel horse

Getty Images
Getty Images

So far, my favorite quote from the Olympics comes from Aly Raisman, the captain of the United States women’s gymnastics team. It’s from an NBC Olympics story, and was an answer to a question about whether being such overwhelming favorites meant there was increased pressure on the team.

She said: “We’re going in as the best team in the world. So we should carry ourselves that way, not be scared and shaky because we have that pressure. It should be the opposite. You know, you walk in like you’re number one and I think that’s intimidating to everyone else.”

NOT BE SCARED OR SHAKY BECAUSE WE HAVE THAT PRESSURE. That shit is incredible to me.

During basketball season or football season I always hate when the team I like is the one that everyone says is supposed to win, because then it feels like the only things that can happen are (A) you win the thing, which is [whatever] because you were supposed to win it anyway, or (B) you lose the thing, which is an utter and total catastrophe. I’m terrified of that. I’m terrified of even rooting for a team that might suffer a catastrophic blow. I’d always rather be in the opposite position: where it’s (A) you lose the thing, and it’s [whatever] because you were supposed to lose it anyway, or (B) you win the thing, which is an utter and total miracle. Those are the low stakes I prefer.

So when I saw that Aly Raisman quote, it was just like, “Oh. I get it. I’m a coward.” Aly Raisman describing her team as the best team in the world and then saying that considering themselves as such only makes them even more powerful is just such a fantastic and foreign thing to me.

Prior to competing in her first Olympics in London in 2012, Raisman was the subject of a documentary called Aly Raisman: Quest for Gold. It was filmed from 2011 up until the Olympic trials. Do you understand what that means? She literally had them make an entire documentary about her wanting to win a gold medal at the Olympics, the most pressure-stuffed contest a gymnast can enter, and she did it BEFORE she was even on the Olympic team, which quadruples the pressure of the situation.

But then guess what she did? I’ll tell you what she did. She tried out for the team. Then she made the team. Then she went to the Olympics. Then she won a gold medal. Then she won ANOTHER gold medal. Then she won a bronze one, too, just because. It was more medals than any other gymnast on the American team won in London, not to mention that one was for the floor routine, which no American woman had ever done before.

Aly Raisman’s confidence is my favorite thing about these Olympics. It has a gravity to it.

My other favorite/least favorite things from the 2016 United States women’s gymnastics team:

Favorite: Absolute Team Dominance

Under the current Olympic scoring system, no gymnastics team had ever won as decisively and crushingly as the U.S. women did this year. Here are the scores for the first- and second-place teams in that event from the past four games:

2012, USA: 183.596, Russia: 178.530

2008, China: 188.900, USA: 186.525

2004, Romania: 114.283, USA: 113.584

2000, Romania: 154.608, Russia: 154.403

Mostly, when a team wins the competition, it’s by a point, maybe a little more. The 2016 U.S. women beat Russia, the second-place team, by more than eight points. That’s like if the Spurs won a game by 160, or like if the Sixers won a game at all.

Least Favorite: No Pommel Horse

They don’t have the pommel horse in women’s gymnastics. That’s very unfortunate because it’s very tense and so much fun to watch due to how difficult of a thing it is to navigate. (I’m a big fan of high stakes when it’s someone else’s well-being in play instead of my own.)

The pommel horse is my favorite kind of gymnastics apparatus and also my favorite kind of horse in general, really. It goes:

  • Pommel horse: the most challenging of all horses
  • Sea horse: the most elegant of all horses and the most mysterious, too
  • Sawhorse: the most practical of all horses
  • Regular horse: the most basic of all horses
  • Workhorse: the most useful of all horses and also the one I respect the most
  • Trojan horse: the least trustworthy of all horses

I wish every Olympic athlete in every Olympic sport had to do at least one pass on the pommel horse. I’m sad that they don’t. But I’m especially sad that the Team USA women don’t get to.

Favorite: Athlete Story Arcs

Look at how the team is put together. You’ve got:

  • Aly Raisman: The unshakable, unflappable leader of the team. Drop her into whatever situation it is that you think is the most deadly, the most dangerous, and watch her back handspring her way right TF out that bitch untouched. She’s the second-best all-around gymnast on the planet right now, losing out only to …
  • Simone Biles: Her brilliance is endless. From just 2013 to now, between the Olympics and world championships, she has won 16 individual and team medals, 12 of which were gold. I was watching a trailer for the new Wonder Woman movie for, like, two full minutes before I realized I was actually just watching Simone Biles on the balance beam. She’s unreal.
  • Laurie Hernandez: Read this.
  • Gabby Douglas: She and Raisman are the only American women in history to have three Olympic gold medals, one of which was for the individual all-around that Douglas won in 2012, which, FYI, made her the first African American woman to do so.
  • Madison Kocian: The quiet one, yes. But cobras have never been much for talking, you know what I’m saying? I watched an uneven bars routine this week where she literally got a 0.0 on the penalties portion of her score. She’s unfuckwithable.

There’s this movie that came out in 1989 called Best of the Best, about a team of Americans that gets put together to face a Korean team in a massively important international martial arts tournament. The Final Five are the real-life version of that, and it makes me so happy.

Least Favorite: My Sense of Self-Worth

On the one hand, the Olympics are dope because you get to watch incredible humans do incredible things, but then on the other hand you realize that you are not an incredible human and cannot do incredible things. I think the closest I ever came in my life to being a gymnast is: One time I dropped my phone but before it smashed on the floor I managed to get my foot underneath it and it absorbed enough of the force from the initial impact that the screen didn’t crack when it finally actually hit the floor.

Least Favorite: The Two-Per-Country Rule

To qualify to compete in the individual all-around competition, scores are tallied up from the previous rounds of competition on each apparatus and then arranged from highest to lowest. The 24 highest scores qualify, and anyone outside of that gets to watch. The one sticky part, though, is that each country is only allowed to advance two gymnasts into the finals, even if that particular country’s third-place gymnast scored higher than a different country’s first- or second-place gymnast, which is exactly what happened to the USA’s Jordyn Wieber at the 2012 Olympics and also what happened to Gabby Douglas, the reigning all-around Olympic champion, this year (Biles and Raisman scored higher). It’s a rule put in place to help grow the popularity of gymnastics outside of already-dominant countries, so I can see the reasoning behind it. But, I mean, I also see the reasoning behind not eating candy for dinner every day, too. That doesn’t mean I like it.

Favorite: Aly Raisman’s First Tumbling Pass During the Floor Exercise

Listen, I really don’t even know how to explain exactly what all it was that she did here. The technical description of it is a roundoff, one-and-a-half step-out into a roundoff, back handspring into an Arabian double front into a punch layout. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you, same as it didn’t mean anything to me when I heard the commentators talking about it beforehand. All I know is that she lined up on one side of the floor, started running, planted, then there was this big, bright flash of light, and then when I woke up I saw that all of my furniture had been thrown through the wall and both of my ACLs were torn.

(You can see the pass in slow motion here.)

The Olympics is full of the greatest athletes in the world doing the most athletic things possible (and also archery). Raisman’s first tumbling pass, which she did in London in 2012 and then did even better in Brazil, is the number-one thing that’s happened so far.