I'm bleary-eyed this week from staying up late watching the Olympics. My only complaint is that according to the NBC coverage, the USA is pretty much the only team there. We get a few glimpses of other countries, but usually only where they're needed as a foil to set off the USA triumphing. Naturally I'm pleased when our American athletes do well (especially "these girls," as the Fabulous Five refer to each other), but I get weary of the jingoism, explicit and implied.
As a modest corrective, here are a couple of pictures of Larisa Latynina, the Soviet (born Ukrainian, now Russian) gymnast whose all-time Olympic medal record was broken by Michael Phelps and three of his teammates yesterday. She lives like a capitalist now—her daughter is married to a Russian billionaire and she lives on a gracious estate outside Moscow. She was in attendance when Phelps broke her record, but the Olympic Committee, stuffy as ever, wouldn't allow her to present him with his 19th medal. Hmmph.
I found this rather interesting. A short film of women's gymnastics c. 1936 (well before Larisa's era). Interesting how the sport has changed—they showed grace and control then, but it wasn't nearly as acrobatic as today.
And the film solves a mystery for me—the balance beam was originally a device to show you could keep your balance, rather than as a platform for harrowing flips and acrobatic tricks. (I never enjoy watching balance beam—disaster's too close by—and I could never imagine why anybody thought it up in the first place, except perhaps to satisfy a cruel streak.)
I'm smitten with our friend Gabby Douglas—what a magical flying squirrel of a child—although my favorite single trick was McKayla Maroney's improbable soaring vault—how that didn't deserve a perfect score is (permanently, so don't try) beyond me. She defies gravity like His Airness did. (Compare it with the vaults at the end of the clip above.)
Here's Larisa Latynina performing.
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Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Ed Hawco: "This is rare; a case where I, as a Canadian, seem to be better off media-wise than some U.S.ers. I can snap on my TV and watch a variety of events on two different HD channels, one in English, one in French, and when I want to see U.S. teams (and a lot of hokey schmaltz about mothers, etc.) I tune into NBC. ;-) "