Monday, August 6, 2012

How come Olympic gymnasts rarely smile?

Lots about watching outstanding female Olympic gymnasts from around the world makes me uncomfortable.

Let’s start with the wedgies.

Can those anal floss outfits possibly be comfortable? They look like the girls were seized by their shoulder straps and shook two at a time by powerlifters.

I’m wondering if it was done deliberately to ensure proper style posture. They walk to their stations so immaculately vertical it looks like wedgies are still being applied by invisible bullies.

Second is the lack of joy. Unless they’ve won, their smiles seem forced. Most of the girls -- and I’m generalizing -- look like they’re wrapped too tight, both literally and figuratively.

It’s the hair styles. Most of them look like they went to the same crowbar-wielding beautician who’d yank back a fistful of hair, wrap it around a crowbar and just start twisting.

The effect is to pull the faces back rendering them incapable of smiling or doing anything more than squirt out a few tears when they’ve failed to stick a landing.

I think that’s why we’re all so taken with Gabby Douglas. She seems like such a happy exception to the general grimness of her fellow competitors in a sport that leave me asking a lot of questions.

Like, am I bad father or are my daughters a pair of lazy asses like their old man?

See, I’m raising gymnasts.

Both the girls, ages 11 and 6, enjoy weekly gymnastic lessons at the local mats. They’ve been thrilled to watch the female Olympians.

That’s good. I want them to get the same rush I got growing up competing on team sports, something I believe is essential to growing up well-rounded.

It’s been fun watching the events with the girls, especially the older one. Her eyes light up when she sees girls who are near her age doing spectacular things that earn international acclaim.

She hasn’t said so, but it would be unnatural for her not to go to bed and imagine herself up there sailing through the air, crowd cheering, $300 synthetic leotard jammed up where the sun don’t shine.

Well, probably not that last part.

I brace myself for the moment when either of them tells me they want to be an Olympic gymnast.

Because that’s when I’ll have to tell them that unless Daddy invents a time machine, neither of them will ever be Olympic gymnasts.

Yes, even the 6-year-old, the one who still plays with Barbies and imaginary friends, is too old.

Part of watching the Olympics saddens me because it seems like many of our best athletes have been raised like veal. They’ve been groomed since they were 4 to excel at something which normal 4 year olds do not aspire.

Normal 4 year olds aspire to watch TV, eat Lucky Charms, goof off, dig around in their noses, and spend long rainy days in bed cuddling with Mommy.

Hell, I’m 49 and those are some of MY priorities.

I guess we’re supposed to be moved by the NBC vignettes that show these girls working the parallel bars at an age when many other children are still trying to master potty training.

They show those clips and they want us to marvel at their dedication. I want to summon Children & Youth Services.

I saw the interview where Gabby said she cried and cried when, in pursuit of her dream, her mother sent her off from her Virginia Beach home to live two years with her coach in Iowa.

There are many times I’d like to send my daughters off to Iowa, but I’d be distraught if they weren’t back right back after I’m done catching up on “Breaking Bad.”

Her father is a staff sergeant in the Air National Guard and has been on many perilous overseas deployments. He and Gabby’s mother are in the process of divorcing.

That’s a lot for a kid to handle.

I don’t know who her Iowa coach is, but I’ll wager it’s not Dr. Phil.

And she seems truly well-adjusted. But for how long?

I hope I’m wrong, but I’m fearful we’ll one day see her again on TV, this time in a non-Olympic competition involving reality TV sobriety issues. It happens all the time when parents fail to let kids be kids.

What sacrifices are parents willing to make in pursuit of their children’s dreams?

It’s a question we all ask. Sure, I’d love to see my daughters one day doing something spectacular on TV.

But for now I’m perfectly content seeing them just watching TV over there on the couch right next to their Mommy.

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