The sport of gymnastics is one that is constantly evolving. The Code of Points is frequently being tweaked with, the level of difficulty is being pushed and equipment is improving. Also the body types of those who do gymnastics is expanding. The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) implemented an age rule stating you have to be 16 in order to participate in senior international meets such as the World Championships or the Olympic Games. The number of pixies physiques has been significantly reduced and you see developed women who rather than being lithe in build are strong and muscular.
Many will argue that there is a great divide in modern day gymnastics between power gymnasts and artistic gymnasts. The claim is that Team USA is filled with power gymnasts, who lack the elegance and grace of former Soviet greats.
Gymnastics is a subjective sports; there are easy things to distinguish, she fell, she didn’t. But something like artistry, is not so easily defined. Artistry in gymnastics expands well past the traditional images of ballet. How can something so subjective be fairly assessed? The FIG is still trying to work on that.
It would be hard to find much more diversity in a team then one would find looking at Team USA. A reflection of the country as a whole, Team USA is truly a melting pot. Looking at the 2012 gold medal winning Olympic team the diversity was remarkable. Gabby Douglas, the fourth American woman to ever win the coveted AA title, is African American. Aly Raisman, the first American Olympic floor champion, Jewish American. McKayla Maroney is Irish American, Jordyn Wieber Lebanese American and Kyla Ross black, Japanese, Filipina and Puerto Rican. Huge diversity in backgrounds, gymnastics styles and body types, yet these five girls came together and dominated the rest of the world at the London Games.
At the world championships that just concluded in Antwerp, Belgium, Simone Biles, an African American, combined with Ross and Maroney to dominate the rest of the field. Though there was no team competition, the trio went on to win 8 medals, 3 of them gold. Biles masterfully won the coveted all around title in addition to the floor title, vault silver and beam bronze. Biles was the first gymnast since Shannon Miller in the early 1990s to qualify for the AA final and all 4 event finals.
The Italy Mess
As often seen in major gymnastics meets, there is some controversy. In the balance beam event finals, three gymnasts challenged their scores, eventual champion Russian Aliya and the two Americans Kyla Ross and Simone Biles. Score inquiries can only be submitted for the D score, the difficulty level which is calculated by adding up composition requirements, skills and connection value. Most of what is being debated when inquiries are submitted are the connection values and whether they were properly credited. While Mustafina’s inquiry was rejected, Ross and Biles inquiries were accepted. For Mustafina and Ross, it had no effect on the standings they remained in 1st and 2nd position. For Biles, her inquiry increased her score two tenths and moved her into the bronze medal position, leap frogging two Italians.
Italian gymnast Carlotta Ferlito, known to be quite fiery and outspoken, gave interviews to Ginnastica Artistica Italiana and Gymnastike saying that she did not believe that Biles deserved the bronze medal but that she got the benefit of the doubt because she is the world champion and because she is American. While this interview could certainly be perceived as poor sportsmanship, it is not the interview that is drawing the most attention.
After the all around competition, Ferlito gave an interview to Italian media:
- Interviewer: “So Carlotta, Simone Biles won the AA competition.”
- Carlotta: “Yeah, I told Vanessa we should dye our skin black so we can medal too.” *laughter* (In reference to Douglas winning gold at the last Olympics and Biles at the worlds).
While many are arguing that she meant this as a joke, not trying to be racist. Obviously there are cultural differences but in comments such as these, particularly when speaking about an American athlete and with the United States history of race relations, it is hard not interpret those concepts are racist. Ferlito responded on twitter, apologizing for her remarks:
An acknowledgement that her comments were inappropriate and an apology.
This could have been the end of the story if not for comments made by the Italian Gymnastics Federation on their official Facebook page. In defending their athletes they wrote:
"Carlotta was talking about what she thinks is the current gymnastics trend: the CoP is opening chances for coloured people (known to be more powerful) and penalizing the typical Eastern Europen elegance, which, when gymnastics was more artistic and less acrobatic, allowed Russia and Romania to dominate the field.
The same comparison could be made between Biles and Ross, both from the US, a multi-racial country that is able to adapt to the constant changes in CoP.
Why are there no black swimmers? Because their physical features don’t suit the sport. (Authors Note: Cullen Jones and Simone Manuel say hello.)
Is gymnastics suiting coloured features more and more, to the point athlets wish they were black?
Please, don’t trash the topic, so no one will be banned. We are curious to know your opinion on the matter.”
It is the Italian governing body that is making these comments.
The problem with this is it is simply not true and based off a racially driven stereotype. And an incorrect one at that. Reigning Olympic floor champion Aly Raisman was considered by many to be among the most powerful tumblers in the world last quad along with 2011 world all-around champion Jordyn Wieber. (Many would argue that their tumbling is far more powerful than teammate Gabby Douglas.) Stereotyping based on body type seems even more absurd as Biles and Douglas builds are totally different.
Additionally, Italy’s former world all-around champion from 2006, who received the silver medal on floor exercise this year, is known much more for her power and difficult tumbling than her artistry.
So Now What?
Neither USA Gymnastics or the International Gymnastics Federation has issued any sort of statement in response to these issues.
The FIG has an outlined code of ethics that all member countries might want to revisit.
- FIG Website http://fig-gymnastics.com/
- Federazione Ginnastica d’Italia Facebook https://www.facebook.com/federginnastica
- Gymnastike Interview http://www.gymnastike.org/coverage/251079-2013-World-Championships/video/721761-Carlotta-Ferlito-on-MTV-show-and-Worlds
- USA Gymnastics usagym.org