Chum Pete went along to the Trampolining World Championships down the road at the NIA. He had fun, but noted
On the one hand this is International Athletics taking place in the National Indoor Arena with professional equipment and a surprising number of suited judges. It’s all very important and has the trappings of gravitas and internationalism.
But on the other hand it’s like a school games day. The music is a hokey mix of pop hits and piano concertos, the athletes are clapped out to a cheezy anthem and the audience, considering the scale of the NIA, is somewhat sparse and, you suspect, comprised mostly of other competitors and their support teams. Less a spectacle, more a gathering of the tribes.
There are two things bound up here - one in the nature of sports events in general, and a narrower focus on gymnastics itself. All sports are niche sports and they all have their own peculiarities and rituals. At swimming galas it's not uncommon, for instance, to play the national anthem before getting under way. The first time you encounter this it seems slightly odd, but after that it becomes commonplace. Even football, for all its media dominance, is a niche sport. It's just its niche is very large, and so its rituals are somewhat baser, like singing rude songs about the opposition, swearing at the referee, and generally acting like spoiled children.
Gymnastics is, obviously, one of the smaller niches, and trampolining, DMT, and tumbling are niches within the niche. The clapping people in and out (the "march on" and "march off"), the blazer wearing judges, the crowd consisting almost entirely of parents and team mates exists at every level of gymnastics from the smallest regional sports hall, through national level, to international level. I know, I've been to them all. Most of the time, we're even clapping to the same music. Perhaps there's only one CD that gets passed from event to event.
It's rather good, actually. When Harry and others kids from his club went along this weekend, they could appreciate, even if unconsciously, that they were gymnasts just like the people they were watching, that the sport they participated in was the same sport they were watching, and the competition they took part in two weeks previously in a chilly sports hall in Stoke had the same trappings and was according the same respect as the competition they were attending now as spectators.
That's why Gymnastics takes itself seriously. Gymnastics is hard. It's really quite ridiculously hard. Even the basic skills - forward rolls, backwards, cartwheels - take time to master. Ok, you might be sitting there thinking any fool can do a forward roll, but you're wrong. Most people can squeeze out a horrible parody of a forward roll, at best. Skills at just the next step up - like a one-handed cartwheel, or a handstand into forward roll - are sufficiently difficult that if your kid pulls one out in the playground the whole school turns round to gawp. If Gymnastics didn't take itself absolutely seriously, it would betray the time and hard work the gymnasts, of whatever level, put in.