Every four years when the Olympic Games roll around, viewers gather anxiously around their televisions, computers and phone screens to catch any glimpse of the action they can. Every year, one of the most-watched events for Americans is the women’s artistic gymnastics competition. As they take the stage for the games, they captivate the world for the brief two-week period, amazing people with their mind-blowing strength, grace, flexibility and power all packed into one.
For a brief period of time, these young ladies become the face of sports media across the globe, making appearances on morning talk shows and becoming the focus of many in-depth feature pieces. Some, like the Mattel toy company, have gone on to make Olympic Barbie sets in hopes of inspiring young women in the sport.
But for the other three years and 11 months in between the Summer Olympics, gymnastics coverage is virtually unseen, with the exception of the recent negative press coming to light surrounding USAG. This is not to say the issues of child molestation by Larry Nassar and the effort by USAG to cover his tracks, or the stories of gymnasts like Riley McCusker and Laurie Hernandez’s lawsuit alleging abuse by their former coach Maggie Haney were not incredibly insightful and necessary pieces, but there is a lack of overall coverage of events on a weekly basis.
Gymnastics and its lack of coverage largely stems from the fact that most people do not have a deep enough understanding to really give a complete and comprehensive breakdown of the sport. Broadcast teams have brought on color commentators such as former Olympians like Amanda Borden, Nastia Liukin and Sam Pezek to help break things down, but the fundamental truth is that there is a lack of knowledge among most reporters who have an established platform to share content.
In an effort to help more people understand the sport, as well as to hopefully help gymnastics continue its evolution towards a better, more inclusive sport for all, it is essential for there to be coverage available for those interested. By providing perspective as to the background of the sport, the different levels of competition, the scoring systems and what judges are looking for, it will help increase the number of followers because they’ll finally have more of an understanding as to what they’re watching.
An excuse many will often make is that it doesn’t draw enough attention to warrant consistent media coverage outside of the Olympics; This is clearly false. Take a look across a number of NCAA campuses on a normal, non-COVID year. Programs like LSU, Utah, Florida and UCLA have no problem selling out arenas on a consistent basis. UCLA, especially, has gone viral on social media for the last four seasons with multiple different girls for their floor performances.
Unfortunately in the NCAA, many athletic programs fail to highlight when the upcoming events are. This is not a knock on each team’s social media presence or promotions of upcoming events. Each individual program has its own social media sites to manage, and the staff running those individual accounts all do a great job. The problem lies with the head of the overall athletic accounts, who frequently fail to provide what many believe to be proper promotion of upcoming events and accomplishments. If the schools themselves did a better job of alerting the overall fanbases, there’d be an increased likelihood of a number of die-hard fans of NCAA teams who tune in to support gymnastics because they want to see another victory, in any sport, for their beloved athletic program.
Gymnastics is also working to attract additional kids and keep them involved in the sport longer with their more recently introduced “Xcel” program, which offers gymnasts a more laid-back approach to competitive gymnastics compared to the more intense path of a higher level, or “optional” gymnast. There’s more than 200,000 registered athletes, coaches and clubs registered with the official sanctioning body, USA Gymnastics, a number that always sees an influx of growth surrounding olympic events.
The bottom line is, the narrative “gymnastics won’t generate enough interest” is not a valid excuse to skip coverage of the sport. In a time of women’s empowerment and a push for equality among the athletic field, now is the perfect time to begin coverage. Thousands of young gymnasts, both boys and girls, devote nearly the same amount of hours to training as a full time job, making this sport their entire life. Especially as gymnasts continue to climb the competitive levels, the intensity increases ten-fold as the top gymnasts in the nation push to continue their dreams, usually ending in one of two ways: Either keep pushing to make a run at Elite gymnastics, or prepare to make the transition to the final phase of their gymnastics career in the NCAA. Unfortunately due to budget cuts at universities across America, men’s gymnastics has been nearly wiped out.
In a sport requiring so much dedication with so little coverage, athletes, family members, coaches and fans would likely flock to the coverage. It’s time to give these athletes more of the attention they deserve. It’s time for a revolution in sports media away from the older, mainstream way of thinking and time to try some new things. Gymnasts know better than anyone, trying something new can be absolutely terrifying, but what doesn’t kill you makes you better, if not stronger.