AFL Round 11 (and gymnastics): Perfection 1 Gymnasts 0


by Dips O’Donnell




I’m at the Sate Netball and Hockey Centre to watch the Victorian Gymnastics championships. It’s an impressive centre. Lots of steel girders, vast glass windows, and official looking desks with official looking people manning them.


I have a nervous daughter competing today. There are a few Olympians from the Beijing Games competing in the Senior International section today also. This is a few steps up from the normal weekend sport activity. It’s very serious stuff.


As I walk into the arena the music is blaring and young men and women are bouncing, flipping, jumping and stretching around the enormous array of gymnastics equipment. It’s a bit like a rave party for really fit people.


Fortunately I’ve remembered to bring the little radio so I can check in on the Melbourne/Collingwood clash at the ‘G’. Thank God the Queen has a birthday otherwise we wouldn’t have any footy to tune into.


The Pies start like millionaires, running all over the hapless Dees. It’s disappointing. I was hoping for a close encounter. I hear Watts get his first touch in league footy. If he becomes a mega star I can say I was tuning in when that happened. The boys on the ABC are asking questions like “Who’s on Swan?” and “Gee the Dees just kill you with turnovers don’t they?”


As the score line blows out my attention goes back to the gymnasts who are still nervously warming up on the various apparatus. The announcer calls an end to the preliminaries. The competition is to commence. I start to feel apprehensive. I watch as my fourteen year old daughter focuses on her first challenge.


Gymnastic confounds me somewhat. It’s foreign to me. It contains strange skills described as Tkatchevs, Yurchenkos, Jaegers, Overshoots, Round offs, and Acro Series. There is no ball to contest, no finish tape, no rules of combat, or even an immediate adversary. I struggle sometimes to see the point of it.


There is a constant, subtle battle raging as the gymnasts strive to overcome technique flaws and natural human frailties. It’s a bit like shadow boxing and expecting to win on points, or serving a tennis ball against a brick wall and hoping to serve an ace. The battle is against perfection, and perfection tends to have the upper hand.


To succeed requires equal parts strength, flexibility, temperament, balance, speed, grace and willpower. And lots of luck. Gymnasts have only a few key competitions each year in which to make their mark and impress the national coaches. If injury, illness, or that mysterious thing called “lack of form” get in the way, it could mean that opportunity passes them by.


It seems that lack of form is dogging the Dees as the Pies effortlessly surge to a six goal lead. Pendlebury is getting leather poisoning, and the Demons sound completely rudderless. As I drift between the gymnastics and the footy, the Pies get to 46 points up. I turn the radio off. No point getting in trouble over a game without any fire in it.


My attention is now fully on the gymnastics. Why do they do it? What drives a young kid (most are aged about 12 to 17) to spend half their life in a gym perfecting skills that resist being perfected, and striving to beat an opponent who is never visible.


Perhaps I don’t understand it because I was brought up a cricket or athletics in summer and footy in winter, type of bloke. Perhaps it’s because I like to see my sporting opponent. I like to feel and touch something so I can compete with it. 


Gymnasts have a different perspective. Gymnasts don’t need another opponent because they have the ultimate one readily available – themselves. They aim to conquer a skill that few others can, rather than perfecting a skill that many others can. They chase the end of the rainbow knowing it’s a forlorn chase, but celebrating each step they take. My admiration for their tenacity and discipline increases as the afternoon goes by. It’s starting to make sense to me. Gymnastics is about the journey, not the finish.


I turned the radio back on and listened as the Dees threatened to make a game of it, but a few stupid mistakes later and the Pies were back to a lead of sixty plus. Players like Dick, Fraser, Lockyer and Davis were getting plenty of mentions and in the end the Pies won by plenty of points. I could imagine Dean Bailey sitting in the coach’s box scrubbing his forehead, ala Tony Jewel when he coached Richmond, as if the answer to his problems might rub off on his hands. 


The gymnastics competition came to an end. As with any sporting event some kids were celebrating their triumphs and others were slumped in chairs contemplating what went wrong. Sport can be very cruel. Gymnastics seems remarkably cruel. A win or a loss can be separated by a stumble on the floor, a quiver on the beam, or a miss on the bars. Perfection is a very high bar to reach. Fortunately my daughter’s gymnastics journey is set to continue.


Good luck to all the girls representing Victoria in the National titles in about a month’s time.




About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.

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