Turn Gymnastics - North America


Posted: Mar 24 2019

The UK was fortunate in having two outstanding gymnastics events on Saturday 23rd April. Deciding which event to go to was a real problem! Dashing between the two venues was a big ask but a rare opportunity to compare the world's best traditional gymnastics performance with the emerging worldwide need for "gymnastics-lite".

2 Events, 2 Formats, 2 Sell-Out Crowds; Everyone Wins!

With live TV across the UK on the BBC, Birmingham’s Genting Arena staged the FIG World Cup event following a traditional competitive format perfectly dressed by the British Gymnastics event team to present a slick and exciting program of awesome gymnastics under FIG rules.

Russian Nikita Nagorny dominated the men's competition, maybe not all according to plan but skill for skill from a different gymnastic planet scoring a massive 85.065 points. China's Sun Wei finished with silver after scoring 84.730, with Japan's Kazuma Kaya taking bronze with 83.731.

Just a couple of hours drive down the M6 motorway and broadcast live over Sky Sports and worldwide via internet access, Matchroom Sport went head to head with the FIG and did not hold back. The Superstars Of Gymnastics event showcased a performance format that was free of the restraints and demands of the FIG code. The iconic O2, host of the 2012 Olympic Games and possibly the world’s finest arena, tested the public appetite for a gymnastics experience that merges the current popularity of celebrity status sport stars with an opportunity to share an insight into what happens when great gymnasts want to let their hair down and be more themselves than what the judges want them to be.

Going in to the first edition of The Superstars Of Gymnastics the press and public were not completely sure what to expect. A built-for-TV celebrity judges panel inclusive of Simone Biles and Max Whitlock, who with the help audience interaction scored each performance out of the good old easy to understand 10.0. The medals were not the purpose of the day, instead the experience for the spectators and fans were key, something the FIG tends to overlook. The crowd may not know their E.G.’s from their C.R.’s but they know what a golden buzzer is when they see it.

Over 20,000 spectators watched live over two sessions. Now double it or triple it… still a drop in the ocean of internet followers who engaged with the event over the social media accounts of each of the gymnasts live. Together, Simone, Max, and Fabian Hambuechen count fans and followers by the millions.

Spectators want a great live show, they want to scream and shout, boogie in the aisles. The followers and fans also deserve and demand to be involved. Fans follow real people they can connect with. In the O2 arena the spectators were encouraged to use their phones and cameras to share the experience. What did the gymnasts do that was so different to a traditional gymnastics format event? Would you dye your hair blue if the judges TOLD you to? Casimir Schmidt dyed his hair green because his fans ASKED him to! No one was sure at first what was allowed but as the day unfolded the gymnasts loosened up. Fabian launched a Kovacs that looked like it had exploded, arms and legs everywhere. Every coach in the stadium had a moment of nausea. Every child in the stadium cheered. There was clowning around; splits under the beam, giants to stand on the p-bars, vaults with runway tumbles and table-top antics. The options and ideas will prosper in anticipation of the next edition. It will mature into clever mix of gymnastic madness.

To the long in the tooth stuffed shirt traditionalists it was possibly embarrassing but if gymnastics does not gather up the new-wave media mad, celebrity driven adrenalin junkies out for a good time then we risk wrapping the traditional gymnastics format in an impenetrable firewall. Olympic sports go out as well as come in. There is more than enough room for this new format and if in the UK we can have The World Cup and the Superstars Of Gymnastics on the same weekend again in 2020 then bring it on!

Trevor Low
Coach & Journalist veteran of Olympic, World and European Championships.

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