The flip side of the medal – Montreal 2017

Following what happens in the gymnastics world is best done on Tumblr. There’s a whole community of people from all around the globe spreading interviews, news articles, competition updates, videos, pictures, rumours and, of course, opinions.* Let’s just say, the general opinion about the World Championships in Montreal wasn’t very favourable. And that’s an understatement.

 

I fully agree that the lighting in the competition hall wasn’t suitable for a gymnastics competition, for the simple reason that gymnasts are not accustomed to performing their skills under bright spotlights in fully dark surroundings. That’s why some of the mistakes were probably due to gymnasts getting lost in the air, lacking their usual reference points. In Glasgow, they did the exact same thing. The organisers seem to want to make the World Championships into a spectacular entertainment show for the people, when it’s the safety of the gymnasts that should be your top priority at all times.

The same goes for podium training. Oksana Chusovitina, who’s been competing in World Championships since 1991, told the press that lots of athletes and coaches were complaining about not being given enough time to get accustomed to the equipment. Why they reduced the podium training time is beyond me. No one cares if it takes a couple of hours longer, there’s no audience waiting and the gymnasts need to be able to prepare for the competition in the best way possible.

To make matters worse, the floor broke during the men’s qualifications. At this level of gymnastics competition, that is just unacceptable. Luckily, they fixed the problem, the boys got another chance and the equipment stayed intact for the rest of the week.

These points of criticism make it clear that the Montreal organisation is to blame for a competition environment that wasn’t 100% safe, while it’s their job to make sure that the gymnasts can perform the most difficult and dangerous skills under the best possible circumstances.

But to go as far as holding them responsible for all the injuries? No.

In my opinion, there was a whole list of gymnasts that shouldn’t have competed in the first place. (At least not at their highest difficulty or on all four events.) Larisa Iordache, Maria Paseka, Giulia Steingruber, Amy Tinkler, Ashton Locklear and Vanessa Ferrari all competed with serious injuries.

“Turns out Larisa’s injury was to be expected in a way. According to Moldovan, she started feeling pain a few weeks before Worlds. She had an MRI, and while there was no damage per se to the ligament at the time, it showed bone growths in the heel that were hurting it. (…) They were hoping her tendon could last through Worlds and were planning on Larisa having surgery after Worlds, to fix it before something happened.” (x) Knowing this and knowing how hard she’d been training, it’s not really surprising her Achilles just rips on a simple back handspring.

maria paseka gold medal vault final world championships gymnastics montreal 2017

It seems like a joke, but Masha has been suffering from back pain for years. After Rio, she took some time off to get some rest and get treatment, but apparently the problem hasn’t been solved, as she was spotted warming up with a back brace.

Another vaulter that needed medical treatment after Rio was Giulia, who underwent ankle surgery in January. The doctor removed three bone splinters, fixed an outer band and treated cartilage damage. She made her comeback in the beginning of September at the Swiss Championships, where she chose to compete two downgraded vaults. Seeing her ankle taped up and her deep landings with feet apart gave me the impression that her body wasn’t fully ready yet for the all-around and the vault final with her most difficult vaults.

If you’ve watched the livestream of event finals day 1, your heart probably broke seeing Ashton bursting into tears after her fall and sobbing after her landing. Although she might just have been crying because she was disappointed in herself, there’s a realistic chance she was crying from pain in her shoulder. In which case she shouldn’t even have continued her routine.

Amy Tinkler’s participation was equally problematic. “It’s been an ongoing problem for two years. (…) So I had an operation. Turns out there were a couple of pieces of floating bone in my ankle. Keyhole surgery went in and took them out. I’m not sure what caused it, but it was niggling me for a couple of years.”
“Unfortunately my routine isn’t 100 per cent what I’d have liked. The injury has held me back. You can’t train when you’re on crutches. I’ve only been training for about seven weeks now.” (x) Yes, you did read that correctly. Seven weeks.

The one gymnast that 100% shouldn’t have gone to Montreal is Vany. She had surgery on her long-time aching Achilles tendon after Rio. In an interview in February she stated that she was dedicating herself to the recovery and that she was definitely not in the race to return at Montreal. (x) That was until head coach Casella pressured her to come back quickly, even though she had to stop training in August because of her tendon pain. (x) Against all common sense, she competed in the last Serie A meet and Casella put her on the Worlds team. She was able to stay in one piece until the floor final, where she crashed to the ground and tore her Achilles.

So people can blame Montreal all they want, but it’s the gymnasts and coaches that often take irresponsible decisions and push their bodies too hard. Especially the coaches should know better and prevent their athletes from going too far and risking their health for a chance at a medal.

 

 

*If you wanna join us, go look at the posts tagged with gymternet.

Note: If you have an other opinion, do tell me on Facebook! I’m always interested in different points of view.

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2 comments

  1. I don’t disagree with you necessarily, but it’s hard to come to this conclusion without comparing how many ‘shouldn’t-be-here’ gymnasts get injured in other years. Ri Se Gwang for example should virtually never be at any meet he’s at, but he manages/is forced to actually compete. There are gymnasts at every competition who are risking their bodies for medals, how do we know there were more here?

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    • Thanks for your comment, Christian! Yes, that’s true. It just struck me *for the first time* that some gymnasts are really pushing their bodies too far and coaches let them (or even push them to) take big risks. At other championships I didn’t really notice and everything just seemed fine.

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