No Nancy: US Men Are Not 'Mediocre'
(18 votes, average 4.44 out of 5)



The U.S. men's gymnastics team is not mediocre. Being fifth at the Olympic Games should never be seen as mediocre.

The U.S. men's finished fifth in the Olympic team final on Monday, and Olympic columnist Nancy Armour, writing in national newspaper USA Today, is apparently fed up with their lack of winning. She writes:

"Mediocrity is no longer acceptable. Or excusable. While the U.S. women are set to collect the first of what will be many golds at these Olympics, continuing their six-year stranglehold atop the sport, the men stumbled to a fifth-place finish yet again. For those keeping track, it's been eight years since the men won an Olympic team medal, 32 years since it was gold."

The definition of mediocre: "ordinary, average, middle-of-the-road, uninspired, undistinguished, indifferent, unexceptional, unexciting, unremarkable, run-of-the-mill, lackluster, forgettable, amateurish."

I don't know what team she was watching, but it was not the U.S. men. Someone needs to point out that the U.S. men are hardly mediocre and were not mediocre on Monday, so that person will be me.

I respect Armour and I enjoy her Olympic coverage, especially the gymnastics. I agree that they need to make changes and revamp the program. However, I find the logic that the U.S. men are unremarkable and forgettable because they cannot match the success of their female counterparts to be extremely mediocre itself. For many reasons.

First, there is the fact that internationally, men's gymnastics and women's gymnastics are not just comparable. The level in men's gymnastics today has never been higher. Anyone will tell you it is harder for the U.S. men to win a team bronze medal than it is for the women to win the gold, because the level of their competition is just unbelievable.

Comparing these two teams' results would be like saying, "The U.S. women's soccer team wins every Olympics and World Cup, so it's time for the men to stop accepting mediocrity and and start winning the World Cup, too! They must not train as hard as the women or they are clearly not as mentally tough when they allow goals."

The fact is there have never been more competitive teams in men's gymnastics than now. Women's gymnastics for the most part is struggling internationally, and in most countries their program is a giant tire fire. China (who only has three girls who can do beam) and Russia can barely put together a team because of injuries, Romania doesn't even have a team in Rio, and countries like Ukraine, which is still producing gold-medal male contenders like Oleg Vernyayev, has not had a team at the last two Olympics. Even the Japanese women have not produced a team even one half as competitive as their male counterparts. (Their last Olympic team medal was in 1964). And more than a few gymnasts in the top teams in Rio do routines that are not even competitive at the college level (double tuck mount on floor exercise? That was impressive in 1976). Exactly why these women's programs are struggling is another discussion.

That's not to say that everything is gloomy. Many women's programs are making progress: Great Britain and Brazil, for example, have made incredible progress to jump into the top group, and other teams are quite respectable. There are also several individuals who have made progress to be international contenders, like Venezuela's Jessica Lopez, who made the uneven bars final in Rio. And that's not a slam on the U.S. women, who hit difficult routines like machines at every world and Olympics with great consistency. However, it's a fact that they don't have much competition out there. You simply cannot compare it with the extreme competitive level that we see in men's gymnastics, where multiple teams are pushing each other for gold.

The competitive level in gymnastics can be seen in the scores at any competition. The men and women have a comparable scoring system – the very best routines are maxing at around 16.0 for both. Looking at the scores from the qualification in Rio (dropping out one low score of 1.6 for the men and 3.7 for the women when the gymnasts were injured), the men average more than half a point above the women:

Breakdown of Qualification Scores in Rio

MenWomen
Number of Scores431324
Scores above 15.5002811
Scores above 15.00010231
Scores above 14.000193116
Average14.29613.755

Not only that, of the 431 scores for the men, 102 were above 15.00, the benchmark for a strong routine. Only 31 of the women's 324 scores were that high. Though men compete two additional routines, the percentages show the difference: that's 24% of the scores for men and just 9% of the scores for women. In the women's qualification, there were only two scores above 15.000 on floor exercise. In the men's competition, Deng Shudi's 15.033 was good enough for 17th place. The sport is simply much more competitive.

Back to Armour, who can't understand why USA Gymnastics does not find the U.S's men's medal record to be as pitiful as she does:

"...the people at USA Gymnastics seem to be just fine with that. How else to explain the lack of accountability for the men in the years between Games while Martha (sic) Karolyi holds the women to an exacting standard from the day one Olympics ends until the moment they are standing on the medals podium at the next?"

U.S. coach Mark Williams, instead of praising his team and pointing out that placing fifth in probably the greatest team final was an amazing achievement, apparently agreed with Armour's suggestion about Karolyi, and toed the USAG party line that Marta knows best.

"Martha's got it right," he said. "We've got to figure it out so guys aren't flustered by anything and it's just a day at the office. Watching the women's team last night was so impressive. It was amazing. We want to be like that."

But Armour thinks the U.S. men are in denial:

"But it's never going to happen until the people running the men's program swallow their pride and acknowledge that Karolyi might just be on to a thing or two. Established standards that have to be met at every single training camp. Regular, high-stake mock competitions so gymnasts can handle the pressure when it counts."

But this is not about just going out and handling the pressure. This confusion about the men's team is what happens when USAG promotes the NBC-approved narrative that all the women's success is because they have training camps where the great Marta Karolyi is always watching, as though it is not the personal coaches of these gymnasts and the gymnasts themselves who deserve the accolades.

Nailing your routines is important. But when you're competing against men's teams like Japan and China, nailing your routines does not mean you're going to win.

If the U.S. men had hit every routine in the final like they did in qualification, when they "handled the pressure" and were second to China, they still would have been fourth in the final and outside the medals (and therefore mediocre). Men's gymnastics has 18 routines in the team final for each country; women's gymnastics has only 12. This is why you see more mistakes even from the top teams; the Japanese had falls in team finals in Rio and at last year's world championships (including one from Kohei Uchimura), and they won the gold both times. So, did Uchimura fall because he doens't know how to "handle the pressure" when it counts, or just because the skills being done in men's gymnastics are really hard and incredible and nearly impossible, and that even the greatest of all time make mistakes?

Monday's team final will be remembered as one of the best of all time, because of the incredible level of the teams and how few mistakes there were. Finishing fifth in this final, with the likes of Kohei Uchimura and Kenzo Shirai, the best Russian men's team in 20 years, and a Chinese team with four individual world champions is like losing the 100 meter dash to the likes of Usain Bolt. Yes, Great Britain and the United States were so close to being on that podium. But there should be no sense of failure for placing outside the medals or being told you choked because you obviously can't handle the pressure. Oh and that you should start having real training camps like the girls do with "established standards that have to be met" as though this is not already in place.

The U.S. men do have national team training camps at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where five of the original eight-member Olympic squad (including alternates) actually live year round. Armour seems to forget the U.S. women have a huge gigantic pool of elite gymnasts, an astounding number. The U.S. men don't have the same number of boys coming out of the club system, and the NCAA system that trained the majority of the best U.S. gymnasts has only a dozen or so teams left, down from more than 100 in the 1970s. The women's program can afford to overtrain them year round and force them to peak and have intense competitions at monthly camps. Extreme difficulty on tumbling and vault is encouraged. If three, four, five top contenders blow out their knees in the Olympic year, it doesn't make a difference to the U.S. women. The U.S. men don't have that "luxury."

Am I saying the U.S. men shouldn't make changes? Of course not. Should they use this as a learning experience? Of course. Should they figure out if anything from the women's program could be useful? Yes. Should they completely overhaul the way they coach pommel horse in this country, so the team never has to fret over finding gymnasts competitive on that event? Absolutely, and why didn't they do this eight years ago? However, it's completely unrealistic to expect the U.S. men to dominate the way the women do. The U.S. men win a very respectable number of world and Olympic medals and are considered one of the powers in gymnastics. Russia, incredibly, just won its first Olympic team medal in 16 years, during which time they managed only one world team medal. During that time span, the U.S. men won four world and two Olympic team medals. The only teams with more team medals than the U.S. during the last 16 years are China and Japan.

In my honest opinion, if there is any criticism to be leveled at the U.S. team over its performance in Rio, it would be to revamp team strategy and stop putting so much focus on qualification. Barring disaster, the U.S. men would advance. In London, the U.S. qualified first, and finished fifth. In Rio, they qualified second and finished fifth. The other teams seem to understand that qualification is just qualification – you need to hit in team finals. In 2012, Japan was fifth and China was sixth in qualification and they did not think twice about that placement. The Chinese have been doing this for years and it's worked very, very well (remember when they sandbagged compulsories in 1994, and then won the new-life optionals-only finals?). In qualification you only need to get a decent team score to make it and try to get your individuals to qualify to the finals they need, and the rest of the team uses it as a warmup for the final. Russia had lots of mistakes in qualification and they shrugged and said it didn't matter, the final is where you win a medal, and reminded journalists of how China and Japan placed in London qualification.

When Great Britain finished fourth on Monday night, they were greatly disappointed of course. And when criticism popped up against Louis Smith, who fell off pommel horse in the last rotation, British Gymnastics stepped up and tweeted how proud they were of their team for a fantastic job. They also pointed out the fact that even if Smith had hit, it would not have been enough to overtake China, so he couragesely risked a more difficult routine at the last moment to try to get that medal, and he doesn't deserve any criticism for missing. In the face of criticism from the United States' only national newspaper shaming your Olympic team because they didn't win a medal, where is USA Gymnastics response? If there is no response in support of this incredible team, that is something worse than mediocrity.

Comments (18)add comment

Cleo said:

0
...
smilies/cheesy.gif All valid points. Great article but the thing is that people just don't understand or get our very complicated sport that is why you have people like that making outrageous claims such as this.
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +3
call it for what it is..., Low-rated comment [Show]

John Arends said:

0
...
Bravo, Amanda. This article is spot on, and written to a standard of journalism far, FAR above that displayed by USA TODAY. Ms. Amour's personalized hissy-fit is amateurish commentary at best. She would be much better served if she had guidance from seasoned, level-headed and far less ego-driven editors above her. She's got much to learn about her craft, and about her beat within the Olympic community. And a solid first step in that education would be for her to read and heed your piece and the writing of the entire staff at International Gymnast.

But somehow, I don't think she has the maturity to realize that, judging from how petty and superficial her rant was/is about the USA men's gymnastics team.

Again, Amanda, thanks for the depth of your thinking, the integrity of your reporting and the professionalism of your tone and writing. You and the IG staff are truly Olympiccclass journalists, compared to the not-ready-for-Rio, boorish amateurism of Ms. Amour and the rest of the celebrity-infatuated "reporters" at USA TODAY.
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +3

Me said:

0
Shaming
First off the whole game of shaming and making excuses is not how we find solutions. The US men have the talent to medal, they have always had the talent. They have not been prepared correctly. they have the difficulty, it is the "team" that is not refined. when Christ Brooks called the mistakes on floor in team final first event jitters is a clue to the root of the problem...those jitters should have been at P&G's or, better yet, 2015 Worlds, NOT on the Olympic competition floor in team finals. With the exception of Leyva and Dalton the US men balk on the world stage. This has been a US talent that should have been and needs to be weeded out with a sports psychologist in their Junior and/or NCAA careers. The USA loves to create athletes that are their "sweethearts" but they just can't perform on the World or Olympic stage and never reach their full potential and through an overdose of never ending "feel good self help crap" and political correctness of "don't hurt anyones feelings" attitude this mediocrity in performance has become acceptable and the fact that they made the tea and compete at the Olympics is more than enough. Thankfully we have the Women's program to prove how wrong the complacence of the men's program truly is. The program needs to be rebuilt and restructured closer to the women't in order to get the results those men and personal coaches deserve...Too many enormous good ole boys egos at USA Gymnastics, their kind of team construction works for NCAA but not for a competitive FIG major event. If they really love the USA and gymnastics they need to take their stale ideals and team construction as well as the team selection format and adapt to the times or USA Gymnastics will rest in the glorified shadow of team USA 1984 and a few rogue athletes like Hamm or Leyva that push themselves outside of the box.
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +4

Jared Buck said:

0
Excellent counterpoint :)
I hope Amour is shamed to hell now for her comments smilies/smiley.gif
 
August 09, 2016 | url
Votes: -3

GAGA said:

0
...
I agree with what you're saying. Men's gymnastics is a lot more competitive.

However you cannot directly compare MAG scores to WAG.

WAG only counts the top 8 skills for their difficulty score. MAG counts 10. To properly compare scores, you would need to account for that variation. Most D scores for WAG are around the mid 5s and if you added a C+B for a 9th & 10th skill, you'd reach the 6.0 mark which is on par with MAG.
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +7

Dave Bresnahan said:

0
Actor/producer
Outstanding response to the USA Today article. Thank for standing up for our men's team, and for doing it so well.
 
August 09, 2016 | url
Votes: +4

John Scanlan said:

0
Nice commentary
It's very difficult to compare men's and women's scores. The men have five requirements, worth 0.5 each, while the women have only four.

On the other side, the same high level skill receives more points on the women's side than on the men's. Full twisting double layout on FX: Men = E for 0.4, Women = H for 0.7

The Yurchenko with 2 1/2 twists is worth 6.3 for the women. It's worth 5.6 for the guys.

The men's skill list is much more difficult than the women's. That's why you see more misses on the guys' side. Plus, pommel horse is essentially balance beam entirely on your hands smilies/smiley.gif
 
August 09, 2016 | url
Votes: +10

KatT said:

0
Thank You!
Thank you so much for this article. I hope it reaches wider circulation. I was so disappointed after Team Finals, not in the USAG men, but by the media (and some of the fan) response.

You said so many things I felt myself. The USA men qualified to the Olympics, qualified to Team Finals, and had a chance to win a medal. They tried their best and yes, they made mistakes, but that doesn't mean they tried less hard or wanted it less because they didn't medal. They are more crushed than any of us in the audience or the media. And now everyone wants to make them feel worse, while they still have days of competition to go.

Good job. You tried so hard. I'm so proud of you. Is that so hard for the media and USAG to tell our own athletes?

Thank you again for your words.
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +2

Dieter Hofer said:

0
Mediocrity of US-Gymnasts
What a well-researched article.
 
August 09, 2016 | url
Votes: -2

Bryan said:

0
...
I disagree. The US Men are not where they need to be. They are not mediocre, but seem do not seem to be able to step it up when it counts. You point out that they scored similar in qualifications as they did in final, yet went from 2nd to 5th. This is because all the other countries seem to step it up when they need to. The US men have enough overall difficulty to place, but do not seem to have the mental toughness to get it done in finals. Truthfully as a 38 year coach in the sport, I blame the coaching and leadership. Talent is there. But they need something to put them over the top. Example -why is Sam starting his FX routine with a side pass where there is even the slightest risk of going OB (on a blind landing no less!) Coach should suggest "Hey Sam, i think it might be a better idea to start in the corner to eliminate this risk" I am still just shaking my head at all of this. And don't even get me started on Naddour...Nothing he has done in trials or Olympics has impressed me. I think Whittenburg got shafted big time!
 
August 09, 2016
Votes: +8

Kevin said:

0
...
Sorry Amanda, but I'm with Nancy Amour on this one. I feel like you're trying to make a pedantic argument using the definition of "mediocre" to argue that the men should be more proud than disappointed. In truth, success is all relative. Fifth place is great if you're a country like Switzerland or Brazil. But the U.S. men's program should have medaled given their talent and resources, and they fell when it mattered. The selection process, disciplining, and preparation for the men need to be overhauled, and performance expectations need to be increased. Why did the U.S. men find it necessary to brag on Instagram that they hit "4 for 4" on pommel horse (in training, no less)? How often do they think the women hit 4 for 4 on beam? If they feel the need to celebrate being consistent on an event ONCE in training, how do they expect to hit it under the pressure of Olympic competition? And this is what I think Nancy Amour was trying to argue, definitions aside.
 
August 10, 2016
Votes: +4

dp said:

0
...
You bring up a lot of good points in this article, but I'm not sure you're giving the "Marta system" the credit it deserves. The US team is 8 points ahead of the field at this Games and has been at least five points ahead every year since 2011. So even if their competitors added a point or two to every total event score (averaging .5 per routine), the US would still be winning a lot of medals in international competition.

Marta's system has produced a women's team that both leads the field in difficulty and rarely if ever has a major mistake in team finals. As you mentioned, this is not just accomplished by the increased pressure and expectations leveled by the monthly camps. By the account of many in the program, these camps also bring the coaches of the country's best athletes together to help fill in one another's gaps; help train less experienced elite coaches as their gymnasts come up through developmental and junior camps (thereby increasing the number of highly competitive elite club programs and by extension the talent pool the national team can draw from); and contribute to a supportive, teamwork-based mindset between the girls that helps them keep one another in the "zone" during competition. If the US men were able to benefit from the effects of a similar system, I'm sure they would have little problem building a level of difficulty and reliability that would allow them to be shoos-in for medals, even if the international field made constant gold a bit of a pipe dream.

A major difficulty in adapting the women's program for the men is that the culture and existing system in USA MAG does not encourage putting the rest of your life on hold for gymnastics- where most WAGs will defer college to keep training for the Olympics, in the MAG program colleges are many of the senior elite gyms. Considering how reliant upon the ever-shrinking college system US MAG is, it's little wonder they don't have the same depth of worldbeater scores to draw on that the women do- it's very hard for a MAG who has just turned senior to find the support to keep training, and growing harder as more programs are lost. I'm not sure how the effect of the women's program that I mentioned (major growth in the number and quality of US elite club programs, and by extension the gymnasts they provide) could be translated to help out this system, but I think if a solution can be found that could help the number of programs expand again it would be a major step in the right direction.

In terms of triaging the situation, I think if USA MAG put as active and constant a focus on building up their gymnasts' PH ability as USA WAG has put on improving UB and VT at times in the past when those have been a major defecit compared to the international field, it wouldn't take long for them to have a team that is respectable on that event, which would help their overall scores (and thus medal chances) a LOT.
 
August 10, 2016
Votes: +9

Kathryn said:

0
...
dp the men already have national team camps where they do developmental stuff with all age groups. It's not unique to the women. The women have more camps because they have so many more gymnasts. They are constantly rotating in groups of TOPs kids. So they have so many more coaches who are learning and then coaching more kids.

Also the American women have had a big advantage the past five years or so because they know they will win by so much. This gives them a large amount of confidence in the team final and they don't have nerves. The last time they really had some serious competition, at the worlds in 2006, the Olympics in 2008 and the world in 2010, they got very nervous, had falls and they lost. This is the same Marta training camp and team selection system that trained these gymnasts but when the pressure was really really on they made mistakes. Can you imagine if the US men went into a competition knowing they would win by 10 points... do you really think they would let nerves get to them? They would be so relaxed and casual.

I'm not trying to say the American girls don't deserve credit but I'm saying this is really another aspect to consider when raving about how they handle the pressure so amazingly but the men have mistakes.

I also think people give Marta too much credit when the majority of the credit should go to their coaches who are the ones who do the work but that's just my opinion!
 
August 10, 2016
Votes: +2

Stuart G. McMahon said:

0
Associate Professor - Sport Management
Dear Amanda:

Thank you for that counter point. I would just like to share the e-mail message I sent Nancy Armour yesterday, and I quote:

Dear Nancy:

I feel compelled to write to you about your rather shallow and one sided editorial of USA Men's Gymnastics. Your failure to look deeper at the issues surrounding the lack of talent pool within men's gymnastics in the US due to the dwindling NCAA Men's Gymnastics programs (who have been adversely affected by the unintended consequences of Title IX) which has historically produced that talent pool show the educated sports enthusiast that you have merely looked for a sensationalized magazine style piece of writing.

Had you taken the time to really research and talk to the gymnastic community you would have seen a trend of dropping high school boys gymnastics programs, and the NCAA Men's Gymnastic system on life support, and you may have taken the time to realize that there just is not that same depth of talent pool as the women.

Boys take longer to mature as gymnasts, therefore the ability to afford to continue training into their early 20's where they can mature as male gymnasts has historically been met with the NCAA and the opportunity for gymnastic scholarships. A further detailed look into the NCAA would have shown you that historically male gymnasts outperform their male NCAA athletic counterparts academically, and have higher graduation rates.

Your "off-the-cuff" piece (in my opinion) has done more damage to the sport than many of those shallow minded Athletic Directors who cut men's NCAA sports in order to "comply" with Title IX (even though Title IX does not require this).

Thank you so much. Hope you feel proud of your piece.

Stuart G. McMahon
 
August 10, 2016
Votes: +1

JK said:

0
Thanks!
Thank you for putting into writing exactly what I've been thinking! The US Men's Team should be proud of what they accomplished, and more people need to understand the backstory of each program.

(Can you please write an article on the dramatization of gymnastics coverage in the US in the past decade or so?
 
August 11, 2016
Votes: +0

GAGA said:

0
...
@DP - You're wrong about the lifestyle thing. The WAG girls we're talking about are working through the 15-20 year age range. So many are still in high school, that's why they're not at college. Those that finish school - at around 17/18 and choose to continue gymnastics at the very top level for another year or two aren't going to bother starting Uni at that stage.

That situation, if it fell on a MAG gymnast would still be the same. However most MAG at the top level are in their mid twenties. When the typical Male gymnast finishes high school, they've still got several many years before they're hit their peak. So many will go to Uni and then go for the Olympics after graduation.

Some of the best gymnasts both MAG and WAG have been at college during their peak. Kohei Uchimura has been in university throughout much of his career. Most of the MAG Japanese team are Uni students. Yang Hak Seon did a superb FHS triple twist at the University games. On the Women's side, Mustafina and Afenaseva have both been doing degrees over the last few years. Epke Zonderland was doing a medicine degree on the run up to the 2012 Olympics!

Further more, the US WAG college program is not elite. They still use the 10.0 system. Vault values are capped at a single twist. Some of the gymnasts come straight from Levels to college. I'm told they only train 20 hours a week. You couldn't go to the Olympics while training at this lower standard.
 
August 11, 2016
Votes: +0

Hontas said:

0
Not comparable.
All I know about gymnastics comes from watching it and doing it for fun up to high school. So I don't know much. I do know about the scientific method and making valid comparisons.

Comparing the overall D+E scores of WAG and MAG cannot be valid. They only have two apparatus in common. The FX is performed so much differently a direct comparison there is not totally valid either. Only on VT do men and women do the exact same thing.

A valid comparison would be to look at the E scores of US men and US women. Casual googling hasn't revealed the breakdown of the scores in this olympics into D and E. I'd bet that the E scores of the men are comparable to the women on that event. The men might even be better in that regard.

As for the rest of the scores. When they make a male perform the FX set to music, like Homer Simpson did when he did gymnastics, maybe then they will be comparable.
 
August 12, 2016 | url
Votes: +1

Write comment

security image
Write the displayed characters


busy
 

Your are currently browsing this site with Internet Explorer 6 (IE6).

Your current web browser must be updated to version 7 of Internet Explorer (IE7) to take advantage of all of template's capabilities.

Why should I upgrade to Internet Explorer 7? Microsoft has redesigned Internet Explorer from the ground up, with better security, new capabilities, and a whole new interface. Many changes resulted from the feedback of millions of users who tested prerelease versions of the new browser. The most compelling reason to upgrade is the improved security. The Internet of today is not the Internet of five years ago. There are dangers that simply didn't exist back in 2001, when Internet Explorer 6 was released to the world. Internet Explorer 7 makes surfing the web fundamentally safer by offering greater protection against viruses, spyware, and other online risks.

Get free downloads for Internet Explorer 7, including recommended updates as they become available. To download Internet Explorer 7 in the language of your choice, please visit the Internet Explorer 7 worldwide page.