Gymnasts–the anti-girlfriends of athletes?
Apologies for my relative absence last week — only two posts, I know– but I have a valid excuse! I was busy covering the 2011 World Championships in gymnastics for Slate (and my other site). How many other bloggers can make a similar claim? A very nerdy few, indeed.
Anyway, I don’t really see gymnastics as something separate from my anti-girlfriend work. In fact, I would argue that female gymnasts are the quintessential anti-girlfriends of athletes.
Female elite gymnasts, one could argue, are not the most romantically sought after of athletes. Perhaps this is because they are typically so young when they reach the elite level, peaking at ages 15-16, and often very small and underdeveloped looking, they are not often considered top dating prospects until after they’ve finished going through puberty.
Also like most high level athletes (and perhaps more than most), gymnasts prioritize gymnastics first and everything else comes in a distant second. That would making dating and guys a lower priority than conditioning, chalk and hand guards.
When I was doing gymnastics, boys were the furthest thing from my mind. After I finished school (where there also weren’t any guys but that’s a story for a different day), I went straight to practice where I put on the most unflattering type of athletic wear, second only to those spandex wrestling outfits — the leotard. There were guys in the gym but they were kind of like white noise to us. We knew they were there but their presence didn’t disturb us in the way that boys can often distract girls. We certainly didn’t care what they thought of our physical attractiveness.
Furthermore, gymnastics is not a sport that invites participation. While many find gymnastics thrilling, it is not the most interactive of sports. A spectator might enjoy the performance and find himself in awe of the acrobatics and elements on display, but he probably can’t envision himself doing any of those moves, the way he can with basketball, baseball, football, etc. These sports more closely resemble a nimble, delicate dance between individuals. But gymnastics can be done alone even if we impose a team format on it.
With other more popular sports, the difference between the viewer and hobbyist is a matter of degree. Many people run regularly but an elite runner does so much faster. A weekend warrior can imagine himself running faster. He/she can see herself performing a more extreme version of what he/she can already do. However there seems to be something about gymnastics that creates distance between the doer and the watcher. And distance is good for admiration but not perhaps not for dating.