Of Chinese Gymnastic Gold and Reggie BushBela Karolyi -- former US women's national team coach -- excitedly popped off to host Bob Costas about the Chinese team's alleged use of an underage athlete.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but as I understand it the Olympics prohibits gymnastic competitors who aren't 16 year of age by the end of the year. One of China's best competitors appeared to be more than a few hairs short of 16 and apparently had a disputed birth certificate. China has the gold now so there's little point in dispute, but they may have broken the rules in beating a solid group of American gymnasts.
Personally, and even with my patriotic heart of hearts, I say more power to them.
Here's why: it's a stupid rule. I assume -- dangerous, I know -- the rule is in place to avoid putting increasingly young competitors on the stressful world stage while also weakening the incentive for overbearing stage parents hoping for fame and Olympic gold out of very young competitors. That and ostensibly to protect growing bodies.
Those are noble aims but the age limit set is entirely arbitrary. As we've seen in the gymnastics, tennis and other sports, young competitors quite often overcome the pressures and perform at the highest levels. Some kids will inevitably pull a Capriati, but it should be their right to do so. Leave those judgments to parents and the athletes (for better or worse) at what constitutes the right age for Olympic competition.
In this case, China may have broken the rules, but they also did no wrong in my opinion.
In thinking about this I was reminded of the Reggie Bush marketing agency dispute. A solid case has been made that Bush and his family received lavish benefits from the marketing agency, against NCAA rules that prohibit outside benefits. Once again the rules protect something noble
-- amateurism, in this case -- but punish something that isn't truly "wrong".
People get through life by offering their skills on the market, whether it be intelligence, ability to invent something, ability to parse numbers or write code or sing or play football. In allegedly accepting benefits related to his football skills and future earnings, Bush broke what seems a strangely illogical prohibition against doing so.
Like with the Chinese gymnastics team allegedly fielding an underage competitor, I sympathize with the rule-breaker.
When it came down to something that mattered like competitive performance, both Bush and the Chinese women's gymnastics team were simply better than their competitors most of the time. Many frustrated folks see the alleged violations and cannot overcome their distaste for the competitors, marring the actual athletic achievements. Hopefully this won't be the case and the Chinese gymnasts can bask in having beaten the Americans and two of their elite performers in Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin who both turned in tremendous efforts last night.
For their part the American girls did their country proud, smiling and enjoying the Chinese team's final performances even as they knew their gold medal chances had disappeared to alleged cheaters. They saw the same thing I did, a team just a little better than them on that night.