Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hamm-ing up the Bhav-star

When Paul Hamm "fought through" a broken hand to qualify for for the Olympics and a chance to defend his all-around gold medal (as in he told the selection panel to include him and they agreed), it was heralded as one of the feel good stories of the 2008 games. I, however, did not feel so good about it.

There are two ways someone can qualify for the Olympics. First, you can qualify automatically, which means that during trials, you finish in the top 3 in three of the six events and in the top 2 overall. Failing that, a committee assesses your performance at the trials combined with the skill set you bring to the team and past performance to select a Olympics team that they think will be the best bet to get medals.

What the second part usually entails is selecting several gymnasts you are world-class at a single event on top of just a couple all-around threats. The committee wants to build a well-rounded team and doesn't want to have to leave a gold medal pommel horse at home to make room for a fourth place worthy all-around guy, though the latter might be the better gymnast overall.

At the trials, no gymnast met the requirements for automatic qualification, though Raj Bhavsar came the closest, finishing in the top three in the requisite 3 events, but falling only 0.08 short of second place all-around. Because of Hamm's petition to be included on the Olympic team despite not participating in trials (because of the injury), he was included and Bhavsar was left out.

ESPN had a field day with the Bhavsar story, as the same thing happened 4 years ago. Bhavsar went out during trials, hit 12 of 12 routines (as in he didn't make a mistake during the entire trials period), and at the end of the day just wasn't good enough. He contemplated quitting the sport for a while, but eventually decided to come back as determined as ever. I can't speak for everyone, but I know I was watching his scores intently during the trials period, hoping for that automatic berth. You can't help but like this guy, as he's full of energy, excitement, and culminates every routine with his signature double fist pump.

Now, with the new injury to Hamm's rotator cuff forcing him out of the competition, we get to see that spunk on display at Beijing, where Raj Bhavsar, all-around good guy (no pun intended), will make his Olympic debut. Let one feel-good story die, and another arise from its ashes.

[edit] Here's the fluff video that ESPN showed about Raj during the trials:

And here is a video of the high bar routine that he was about to begin when that fluff video aired:

Being a former gymnast (I use the term loosely), I feel like I should know this, but how do their arms not get ripped out of their sockets?