The Skating & Gymnastics Accidental Doubleheader: Act II

…Continued from the previous post.

You have to understand. This was not just another sporting event. And I’m not just saying that because I arrived screaming into the parking lot on two wheels, trying to extricate myself from a double-booking fiasco.

No, this event had other, more critical consequences.

“What could possibly be so important about a women’s gymnastics meet between two Division III colleges?” you may ask.

It’s quite simple. The meet in question matched the Springfield College Pride against the Ithaca College Bombers. I am an Ithaca alum. The Bird has a sheepskin from Springfield. This was epic mano a (wo)mano stuff. But it was not just for bragging rights – chores were on the line.

If Ithaca were to win, it would mean no dishwashing duties for a month for yours truly. If Springfield won, I would inherit litter box detail. See what I mean? Big. HUGE.

Only minutes removed from the January Thaw speedskating event 30 miles to the south, I was a man on a mission. I skidded to a halt and hoofed it into Blake Arena just in time to hear “…and the home of the brave.” Without even having to break stride, I clambered up the bleachers in order to gain my preferred bird’s eye viewing spot. And in doing so it occurred to me…I was climbing over and around a whole lot more people than I usually have to for a “second tier” sporting event.

In fact, the bleachers were dangerously close to being full. And in addition to the usual assortment of friends and family members, there was a sizable contingent of students – many of whom wore jackets indicating varsity team membership in another Springfield College sport. What appeared to be the entire men’s basketball team had settled in just below me.

And in addition to vocal support, a flotilla of balloons accompanied homemade placards and banners – Ithaca had even brought their own along to add to the atmosphere. This was perhaps the most authentic display of spirit that I had encountered outside of high school sports. I was impressed. But not impressed enough to root for Springfield though. Nice try.

The environment was also fan-friendly, in a very grass-roots kind of way. A modest program provided just enough basic information, and it was clear that the event had been operationally laid out with maximum visibility of each of the four competitive stations in mind. The only thing missing was an active emcee to introduce each gymnast’s routine and provide ongoing event information – but really, I’m just quibbling now.

I settled in for the first rotation, and of course became immediately confused by the scoring system.

On the table in front of each judge sat a flipchart which I assumed they would use to display their scoring of each gymnast’s performance. Sure enough, following the first gymnast’s vault, both judges’ charts read 9.8. Shortly after that however, a separate freestanding floor display was being rotated 360 degrees to show all in attendance a score of 9.175. Can’t these people make up their minds?

After struggling through several instances of this contradictory process, from somewhere deep in the IGTS Tour brain stem emerged the memory of competitive diving. I had learned that much of a diver’s score is predicated upon the Degree of Difficulty that the athlete had committed to incorporating into their dive. It occurred to me that the same thing was going on here – and sure enough, it was then that I noticed that the table flip cards were actually being updated before the gymnast performed. So either the Degree of Difficulty was being displayed to the crowd, or the fix was seriously in.

It was then that I noticed the hanging screen in the far corner of the gym, which exhibited the ingenious “scoreboard” that I had first seen at a Derby Dolls event.

The concept is brilliant in its simplicity. Lacking a scoreboard that can be configured for your event, you fashion a customized spreadsheet, feed a laptop computer into an LCD projector, pull down a large screen from a ceiling mount and Boom! (as John Madden would say if he covered gymnastics):  instant scoreboard.

Since the event organizers had gone to this trouble, I figured that whatever other numbers were being bandied about on tables and floor displays, I could count on this as the official score. That is, if I could only see it. If I may make a tiny suggestion to the good folks at Springfield College…use a boldface font on your spreadsheet. In the alternative, you might consider creating a special “Middle-Aged People With Formerly Good Eyesight” seating section nearer the screen. You’re welcome.

The overall setup made this the first non-“stick and ball” sporting event I’d seen in a while in which you could actually track the score as it played out over the course of the competition. Sure it required pretty fair vision, and some mathematic skill beyond what simply fingers and toes could provide, but theoretically you could say something like “Ithaca needs a 9.325 from this last floor exercise to win this rotation.” As someone with distaste for cat litter might wish to do, for example.

But never mind all that – let’s set the stage for the action, shall we?

There were four rotations to the meet, with each team performing separately on the vault, the uneven bars, the balance beam and the floor exercise. A rotation doubled up the action, with one team doing the vault, for example, while the other was doing the uneven bars.

Six athletes competed for each team in each event. The lowest of the six scores was dropped and the other five were added together to obtain the team score for that event. Adding up the team’s four event scores gave you the team’s overall score for the meet.

Bombers Get Their Meet Face On

Ithaca had come into the meet as the nation’s top-scoring Division III team – YOU GO BOMBERS!! (Sorry, I promise not to let that unprofessional outburst happen again). I wouldn’t have thought that to be the case though when I watched them perform on the uneven bars. Nobody really blew me away, and the best score that was posted was a 9.125, with a team score of 44.575 – an average of less than 9.0 per gymnast.

But then, after watching Springfield on their turn on the bars, it dawned on me – this is incredibly difficult stuff. And I realized that my only experience watching gymnastics has been the Olympics, the pinnacle of the sport. So I generously decided to cut these ladies some slack, especially since if I were to attempt one of their routines I would be screaming like a terrified banshee right up until the inevitable point at which I fell on my head.

Don’t Try This At Home (Note Onlookers’ Reactions)

After the first rotation, in which Springfield performed on the vault and Ithaca on the bars, the Pride led the Bombers 46.525 to 44.575. I nervously started to craft a plausible way to deny that I had ever agreed to the Chores Bet with The Bird.

Things evened out again after the second rotation, when Springfield had to compete on the more difficult uneven bars while Ithaca moved to the vault. At the halfway mark, the Bombers held a slim 90.575 to 89.950 lead. It was obvious that things were going to be tight right until the end, as the teams appeared very evenly matched. See for yourself…

Up to this point, the meet had taken just 45 minutes. My fiendishly clever plan to see two separate events more or less simultaneously was playing out to perfection. At this rate I would be back in Hartford at the January Thaw speedskating event well before its completion. If I could pull that off and win the Chores Bet…

LET’S GO, BOMBERS! LET’S GO, BOMBERS! Oh wait…I promised not to do that, didn’t I?

To be continued in next post…

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