One last word on the Wieber/Komova (USA/Russia) controversy

I didn’t have time to cover the World Championships on this blog but I certainly had time to follow the event, especially the big dispute about who won the women’s all-around, who deserved to win it, who said what about whom, who showed lack of sportsmanship et cetera.

Did Wieber deserve the gold medal? Did Komova deserve the silver medal? I definitely won’t give you an answer to these questions – and I’ll keep my word. Rather I’d like to focus on another aspect of the controversy, not the competition, the judging, the behaviour of gymnasts and coaches but what the media and especially all the blogs did with it.

I would like to remind you all of one important thing: All the articles and opinions were mainly written from an American, a Western perspective. All of them were written in English.

When you click on “press coverage” on the official website of the Worlds you’ll find a list of daily blogs:

Three of them are written by US-Americans, one by a Canadian, one by an Australian, one by an Irishwoman and one by European writers. All of them in English.

It’s a common habit whenever someone posts a photo of Russian gymnasts to call them “divas”, it’s common to report about how Russian coaches are easily offended (at the American Cup, the commentators loved to joke about how the Russians were furious about the last-minute-change of athletes). It’s not done in a serious way, but a funny way. In my opinion it’s also sometimes a disrespectful way (though I’m pretty sure it’s not meant to be disrespectful). And at these Worlds some reported about the uneven bars final when Russia won gold and silver as if the Russian delegation was a big spoiled child who finally got their way and should be happy now – as if the two gymnasts didn’t really earn these medals with impressive performances.

In addititon, do not forget, whenever (non-American, non-Australian and non-British) gymnasts and coaches talk to you after the competition they either have to search for the right words in English, a foreign language to them, or their answers have to be translated, sometimes in a way which does not exactly express their feelings.

Do not forget that different countries do have different habits and attitudes. John Geddert’s high five to Sui Lu after her balance beam in event finals was as American as the flag of the United States. Of course, I’m using a cliche here, too, but in general, Americans are way more outgoing than Europeans and even more outgoing than Asians.

The dominance of the English language and an American/Western perspective in the coverage of gymnastics is huge. I don’t say it’s a bad thing. I don’t say we should all start speaking Russian. I don’t say “the Russians” or all the other nations are perfect (they’re certainly not!).

All I’m saying is: Do not forget about the facts discussed above. Be aware of certain stereotypes you’re using. And please, do not start another Cold War in gymnastics!

PS: There’s one thing I’d like to add. Thank you all for the hard work you put into your articles, photos and videos! It’s always easy to find something to complain about. In general, I and I’m pretty sure also a lot of other gymnastics fans enjoyed the detailed, quick and entertaining coverage of the second biggest event in gymnastics.

10 Responses to “One last word on the Wieber/Komova (USA/Russia) controversy”

  1. fulltwistFull twist Says:

    Full Twist is Irish 🙂

  2. Ono No Komachi Says:

    TAAF is run mostly by Europeans.

  3. fulltwist Says:

    No problemo 🙂 Nice post

  4. Rick McCharles Says:

    Gymnastics Coaching editor Rick McCharles is Canadian.

    And the main media story from Tokyo was how the Russian (tabloid?) press freaked out after Komova finished 2nd.

    I’ve never seen any worse “newspaper” coverage. … But I tried not to blame the RUS gymnasts / coaches as it’s so easy for a sentence fragment to be taken out of context.

  5. RussiaFan Says:

    Thank you for an excellent article. As someone who speaks Russian and has traveled there quite a bit the “OMG Russian draaaaama, soooo amazing” attitude is really annoying. Google translate is fine at times but in NO WAY refelects a proper translation. I am shocked that it is acceptable for blogs to present Google translated versions of artcile as news.
    @ Rick How many of the tabloid journalists were actually present in Tokyo? Sovietski Sport, for instance, who had Komova on the front page wasn’t even in Tokyo. They “covered” the story from Moscow.

    • Rick McCharles Says:

      There were plenty of Russian speaking people amongst the 500+ accredited media. But it was never clear to me who they were there for.

      … I should have asked American coach Yefim Furman who was doing some translation for NBC.

  6. Brook Says:

    There were only one big-time russian tabloid in Tokyo – “Sport-expess” and only one serious journalist – Elena Vaytsehovskaya, btw olympic champion Montreal-76 in diving

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