The one and only daughter (1&onlyD) swung on the uneven bars, battled for balance on the beam and would soon assault the vault in the annual club championship. Next though, for the 1&onlyD and her cohort of primary school gymnasts, was the floor routine.
The 1&onlyD has been thrilled by each new piece of equipment introduced to her gymnastic life: as a tot, the trampoline; then as play became training, the vault, the beam – first at ground level, then at head-height – and most recently the uneven bars. But it’s the apparatus without equipment – the floor – that has remained her favourite. It might be sheer enjoyment of the space, or simply that it’s less constrained, maybe even safer than the other disciplines.
She selected the music for her routine at the end of the summer: Bear Necessities. Then she began to construct the moves she would perform to accompany the music. A concoction comprising her favourite wheels, rolls, flicks, flips and splits linked by strides, leaps, steps and kicks. The routine grew in length and complexity at the twice weekly training sessions, but it was at home that the 1&onlyD pondered her options and trialled them in the concentrated space of our living room.
She counted down the training sessions until the championships, which fell in the same week as the first public performance of the school orchestra and recorder group. Playing violin and recorder played second fiddle to the gymnastics which was what really made her nervous. The 1&onlyD was anxious about the beam but the build up was really focused on the floor routine.
Her cohort included three girls she trains with regularly and a group of girls who train on another night. One of her peers, a little older, has an energy and elasticity that sets her apart. Finding she would be in the same group made the 1&onlyD sober about her chances of winning trophies. On the first apparatus, the uneven bars, Elastic Girl did swing with a speed, precision and assertion greater than the rest. Moving to the beam, all the girls wobbled and teetered, getting plenty of opportunity to show their graceful remounts. The 1&onlyD brushed off a couple of tumbles attempting simpler moves and completed a backward walkover intact.
And then the floor, where the 1&onlyD was the second gymnast to perform. She flitted all around the mat, forwards, backwards, speedily and slowly, on feet, hands, bum and back. Her pacing and gestures moving in concert with the music. Mrs DG, who had seen practice runs and discussed different moves, beamed. The applause, not just mine, seemed more sustained than for the gymnasts before or after her.
Several practice vaults, then one for real and the competition was over. The girls gathered on the mat in front of a foam rostrum and a table of trophies and medals. The 1&onlyD made it to the lower steps of the rostrum for bars and beam, with Elastic Girl winning gold. The medallists for the floor were announced: not bronze, then sighs of surprise – silver for Elastic Girl – could the 1&onlyD.. Before the thought was complete, a Monday night girl was up and taking the prize. A simple case of mistaken identity no.1 son quickly reasoned. Overall bronze was the reward for the 1&onlyD’s consistency, but it wasn’t savoured.
A few days later and the judges’ scores were posted on the gymnasium wall. How close had she been to a medal for her floor routine? Not close, but last.
All sports have scoring systems that exist a little askew from the aesthetic excellence of the most eye-pleasing performances. We’re familiar with the flowing passing move in football that slices apart a defence, but earning nothing if the final shot is angled a degree too tight or wide. The most sumptuous off-drive in cricket scores zero if intercepted by a fielder. Something similar operates in gymnastics, too.
The 1&onlyD’s routine was longer than that of her peers. It contained, with one exception, a greater diversity of movement and degree of difficulty than that of her peers. It turns out that slight misalignments of her limbs, repeated in the many tumbles, turns and twists, led to multiple deductions. There can be no complaint – the apparatus is there to test specific skills which the scoring system measures.
But the 1&onlyD is disappointed and I wonder what lesson she should learn. Clearly, as with any junior sport, the aim must not be to win at all cost. I would not want her to conclude, though, that there’s no return, no reward for boldness. Maybe a technical sport, like gymnastics, demands attention to detail ahead of risk-taking.
What I hope, when the disquiet passes, is that she can reflect on the satisfaction and joy she felt devising her routine, practising its intricacies and contortions, but not dwell on how it was received in competition.