CHAPTER GYMNASTICS’ GREATEST MOMENTS How often have you said “Wow!” while watching gymnastics? The flips are often spectacular. The ability of gymnasts to leap into the air and land on a piece of wood that is 4 inches (10 cm) wide is amazing. When a gymnast swinging on a bar with a diameter of 1.1 inches (2.6 cm) takes his hands off, flies into the air, and grabs the bar again as he plunges downward, you just have to say “Wow.” You might also say “Wow!” when you watch a mammoth home run, a bone-jarring tackle, or an incredible dunk. The athletes who perform those feats, however, are generally far taller or heavier than the average human being. Be honest. Don’t you think that a feat of athleticism and strength by a man who is smaller than you or a woman who is half your size is more impressive than an athletic feat by someone who is twice your size? If your answer to this question is “Yes,” you should love gymnastics. You should love it even more if you’re impressed by grace, charm, poise, theatrics, and showmanship. When you factor in the intangible quality of aesthetic beauty that you almost never find in traditional team sports, you can understand why gymnastics appeals not only to casual sports fans but also to many non-sports fans. The youth and innocence of many of the teenage competitors make the sport even more popular. Since Olga Korbut enthralled television audiences during the 1972 Summer Olympics with her smile and daring moves, women’s gymnastics has been one of the most—if not the most—popular sports in the Olympics. TV ratings show that women, in particular, love to watch gymnastics—men’s and women’s. A generation of gymnastics fans got hooked by the perfect routines of Nadia Comăneci in 1976. It was impossible not be charmed by the radiant smile and energetic athleticism of Mary Lou Retton in 1984. These are just some of the greatest moments in the history of the sport—moments from the sport’s biggest stage, the Olympic Games, that made us all exclaim, whisper, or mouth the word “Wow!”


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