Friday, February 27, 2009

Lord Pommel rules

I love the Olympics.
There is an excitement about the event that can be felt even through the TV screen.
It is a thrill to watch the best athletes in the world go head-to-head in a bid for global supremacy.
My favourites are track, gymnastics and women’s beach volleyball (which I watch purely for my interest in the sport, honest.)
Anyway, I was watching the latest games when the pommel horse competition was featured.
Who came up with this event?
The 100-metre dash I can understand because it is a competition to see who can run the fastest – simple as that.
Children around the world hold their own running competitions every day to see who is the quickest, so it makes sense the game would progress to elite levels.
But I have never seen children jump on the back of the couch and swing their legs around and over and up in the air while using just their arms to keep themselves steady.
But there it is - an Olympic event.
I assume there is a long and glorious history to the pommel horse.
As it includes a reference to a horse, maybe it goes back to the days of old where knights would mount their valiant steeds before heading off to rescue a fair maiden.
Perhaps one such royal knight miscalculated getting on his horse and swung his legs around in a crazy manner before landing on the saddle.
He then looked at his subjects, raised his arms in the air and shouted, “Tadaaaaa. I meant to do that.”
Pretty soon other knights were getting as creative as possible when getting onto their own horses and being men, a competition was born.
I cannot confirm this, but I suspect that original knight’s name was Sir Pommel.
I have no idea what the horse’s name was. Maybe it was George, or Marvin or something, who knows.
To me it just seems like a rather obscure sport to hold such world prominence. How many world-famous pommel horse athletes have you ever heard of? My point exactly.
Other gymnastic events include floor routines – which absolutely blows me away.
The only time I have ever done a flip even remotely close to what these athletes do on a regular basis was when I fell down a mountain side. I did do a three-point landing, however, except the three points were two knees and a nose.
The rings are also impressive.
I can remember trying to do an iron cross in high school. That is where the muscular athlete forms a T in a feat of strength that is quite astounding.
Seeing as I was neither muscular nor an athlete, I didn’t quite make the T. My attempt actually looked more like a lower case I. Although I did keep my legs straight, so that had to count for something.
Then there is the horizontal bar event. The men use a single bar and do all these flips and twists and spins and they do it all with seemingly effortless grace.
The women do the uneven parallel bars with equal strength grace, and I saw first-hand why men do not participate in that particular competition.
I had a buddy in high school whose brain was always half a step slower than his actions. Prior to a Grade 11 gym class he was watching the girl’s class (which was a popular sport in itself) and he decided he could do the uneven bars as well.
He ran up to the bars and grabbed the highest one and began to swing his legs back and forth before attempting to swing all the way forward and bounce off the lower bar with his abdominal region.
Problem was it was not his abdominal region that made contact with the lower bar.
He emitted a rather odd gurgling sound before crumpling to the floor.
Once everyone had stopped laughing – which took a while – my friend was heard to say in a rather high voice, “That was just stupid. I wish I had never done that.”
It may have been stupid to him, but it was hilarious for the rest of us and the reason why men do not compete in uneven bars was made clear.
A similar fate awaited several of us on the pommel horse (for some reason our school actually had one of those) because a bunch of scrawny high school kids did not have the strength to keep themselves from landing on the horse while doing the splits.
Everyone laughed the first time it happened, but the laughter was tainted with nervous chatter as every guy realized his time would come on the horse of doom.
By the end of the class, there was a bunch of 17 year olds with strange expressions, higher voices and a rather odd gait to their step.
Having attempted several actual Olympic gymnastic events and failing miserably, I have an intense respect for any athlete who has the drive and dedication to excel to the Olympic level.
It is utterly incredible what these men and women can do.
I may not understand the pommel horse, but I sure appreciate their ability to swing around on one.
Lord Pommel would be proud.

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