Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sorry, Alicia. We may have lost your ticket home.

Yesterday's battle during the Women's Gymnastics Team Final started out as epic as advertised. The United States and China were paired up on rotations, so it seemed like no one else was even competing. With three stuck landings, the US pulled out to an early lead on vault after the first rotation.

Moving along to the uneven bars, we had solid, though unspectacular performances by Chellsie Memmel and Shawn Johnson before an amazing showing by Nastia Liukin, who seems like a lock to win the individual gold in the event with an unreal score of 16.9 (in comparison, Memmel scored 15.7, Johnson scored 15.375). However, the Chinese proved to have the best uneven bars team in the world, throwing in two scores that nearly matched Liukin's, and edging into a slight 1 point lead after two rotations.

On the balance beam, the Chinese showed definite nerves. Captain Cheng Fei fell off the beam, while Deng Linlin never looked completely balanced in her entire routine, driving the Chinese to an average score of 15.7 on the event. Seeing as every single US gymnast put up a score of above 15.9 in qualifications, this seemed like a great chance to take the lead going into the final rotation.

Alicia Sacramone, object of many a fancy, quickly put an end to that notion as she fell off the beam on her mount of all things, leading to an automatic 0.8 point deduction and a score of 15.1. Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson took care of business, but the US Women had their work cut out for them to finish off.

Going into the last rotation, floor exercise, the United States trailed by exactly 1 point, which is not that much early on, but a lot with only three scores to rely on. In other words, they needed nothing short of perfection. Alicia Sacramone was first up, and if she delivered anything, it wasn't perfect as she sat on of her passes, and stepped out of bounds on another to give her a dismal score of 14.6, effectively ending all hope for the Americans. You could see it in the reactions of her teammates after her routine. Coach Marta Karolyi met her, but wouldn't hug her. None of the American gymnasts approached her to say anything or give any comfort. They knew and she knew.

After her also imperfect routine, Nastia Liukin seemed to be the first gymnast to walk over to Alicia to give any sort of support. They embraced and then Nastia whispered a pretty long motivational speech to her. It was probably something along the lines of "You tried your best, it's not your fault, etc," but Nastia Liukin feels so cold to me that I wouldn't be surprised if it went something like "You have singlehandedly destroyed our chances at winning the team gold. I hope you are happy to be an American."

Some will point to Nastia and Shawn's missteps on the floor, but remember those came after the US was already pretty much eliminated. Some will point out that the Chinese cheated by using "little babies" , but it doesn't take away from the fact that they, the little babies, stepped up to the plate, while Alicia Sacramone, our 20-year-old team captain, hailing from the town of Winchester, Massachussetts, where I happen to be typing from right now, couldn't meet the challenge.