The opening ceremony for this year’s Summer Olympics in Rio are tonight, and the ceremony kicks off some very busy weeks of athletic competition in sports that don’t get a whole lot of attention outside of the Olympic year. One of those sports is gymnastics, which takes the spotlight every four years as casual fans and Olympic-watchers take the opportunity to check out this unique sport. Maybe gymnastics is already on your can’t-miss Olympic viewing list, but if it’s not, it should be, and here’s why:
Gymnastics is one of the few sports where the women’s program gets more attention than the men’s in the US – and where the women actually outshine the men in terms of their performance and medal haul. (US men’s team member Danell Lleyva had some lovely things to say about this recently.) This year, the ladies of Team USA are expected to easily win the team gold in Rio, and will most likely grab at least another five individual medals (maybe more)! Keep an eye on Simone Biles, the three-time world champion who is a favorite for the all around gold; and returning Olympian Aly Raisman, who has a shot to win an all around medal, as well as pick up another medal in floor exercise, where she won gold in 2012. And don’t forget about Laurie Hernandez, whose floor exercise performance will make you smile no matter how cold your heart is, and whose impeccable beam routine could grab her a gold medal on the event.
They may be short in stature, but don’t let that fool you – the US men’s gymnastics team is basically the bro-iest bunch of bro-y bros you will ever encounter. It’s comical and somehow even a little endearing to listen to them bro out over each other’s routines. Pay special attention to Jake Dalton on floor, one of the US team’s most world-class routines. Do they have a chance to medal in Rio? A chance, yes, but they’ll have to hit the best meets of their lives to make it happen, unlike the women, who are so dominant they could count several mistakes and still win.
Uniforms are a hot topic of conversation in many sports, but gymnastics leotards (particularly for the women) are exceptionally fun to discuss given the sheer variety of colors, fabrics, patterns, and crystals. And, like any other type of fashion, there are trends in leotards. These days, leos tend to be high shine and high sparkle. A single competition leotard can contain thousands of Swarovski crystals and cost upwards of $1200 apiece. Personally I love the fact that the leos give the young women competing a chance to express their style and personality, as well as their femininity, while simultaneously performing skills most people could never dream of doing and having muscles strong enough to crush the skulls of anyone who comments on how small, cute, and innocent they are…eye roll.
Pokemon Go Enthusiast Domination
Japan’s Kohei Uchimura has won so many World and Olympic medals I don’t even want to try to count. The gymnastics community calls him “King Kohei” for a reason. But recently Kohei was in the news for something decidedly not gymnastics-related: he managed to rack up $5000 of data charges on his phone plan by playing Pokemon Go at the Olympic village. While this is definitely an amusing anecdote, Kohei deserves attention for his amazing gymnastics as well. His team is in the hunt to win gold, and he has a legitimate chance at winning multiple individual medals – all while being the friendliest, best-haired guy on the competition floor.
Thor’s Daughter & Dr. Prince Epke
Get this: one of the standout athletes on the Dutch team is Eythora Thorsdottir. Is that not basically the greatest name you’ve ever heard? As an added bonus, Eythora does beautiful gymnastics. While many gymnasts these days try to bump their scores up with difficult tumbling and acrobatics, Eythora (and the rest of the Dutch team) earn much of their difficulty through impressive dance skills and lovely artistry. It’s a breath of fresh air that will remind you of a time when “artistic gymnastics” truly emphasized artistry. NBC’s coverage of Olympic gymnastics will be US-centric, but if you get a chance to check out Eythora, don’t miss it!
Epke Zonderland is another Dutch treasure. He’s an Olympic gold medal-winning future doctor with Disney prince hair, and his high bar routine is possibly the craziest thing you’ll ever see attempted by a human. Unfortunately Epke has been struggling with some kind of hand injury throughout Olympic practice sessions, so he will only be competing on his speciality event. Hopefully his injury will not get in the way of him earning a shot to defend his 2012 high bar gold.
Check out the full schedule of Olympic events to find out when you can see gymnastics throughout the Rio Olympics, and don’t be afraid to check out trampoline and rhythmic gymnastics too!