I despise it when people scream at the TV during sports, and now I am one of those people.
To many watchers’ surprise, this year’s individual rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics was won by Israel’s Linoy Ashram. She is the first Israeli woman to win an Olympic gold, the first Israeli medalist for rhythmic gymnastics, and the first to end Russia’s dominance over the sport since the new millennium.
The day after that, Bulgaria took away gold in the rhythmic gymnastics group finals, also ending Russia’s gold streak and Russia’s reaction was less graceful than their routines. They said it was biased judging. Oh babes we know, we’ve all had a time we thought fell far from A+.
Russia had twin sisters Dina and Arina Averina gunning for the top places, but instead Dina took second place, while Arina took fourth. Rather than gracefully accepting this, they sat down, clutching their teddies and sobbed while the other gymnasts cheered for Ashram. The gold medalist went over to congratulate the twins and hugged their coach, while Dina, who believed she should have won, still had her head buried in her knees.
Russian supporters felt victimised and unfairly judged as Israel’s Ashram dropped her ribbon in the last routine. Some had the impression that the judges were sick of Russia winning and decided to give someone else a go on the top level of the podium. But we know that you can still win with drops; Russia has done it before. For the less acquainted with rhythmic gymnastics, athletes compete in four apparatuses: hoop, ball, clubs, and ribbon. Athletes are judged on execution and difficulties. Ashram could have had routines with a high difficulty scoring, making her drop (an execution penalty) in her final routine have less of an impact on her placing.
Dina Averina only needed 0.150 points to get gold. So was it unfair, or did it just seem an extra-sore loss because it felt like the Averina’s less-than-first placing disgraced the nation? I have no doubts that the Averina twins felt immense pressure along with their expectation to win top placings. Rhythmic gymnastics is embedded in Russia’s national identity and their achievements are a great source of pride.
Notably this year, the Russian Federation was not able to don its three striped flag due to Russia being banned from the Olympics for doping. They had to compete as ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) which entailed a couple of strange requirements. All public displays of the team should be named as ROC rather than Russian Olympic Committee, and if an Olympian won gold, they would have Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 played, rather than their national anthem.
Meanwhile in Ashram’s final ribbon routine, she wore a rhinestone encrusted blue and white leotard resembling a feathered bird in the front and performed with a matching blue and white ribbon. On her left shoulder, was a palm-sized Star of David rosette. If that’s not Israeli enough, her routine was performed to an electro-beat version of Hava Nagila, a traditional Jewish folk song. It’s one of those sports you can really milk your patriotism with.
You can see why (from a place of bad sportsmanship) a win from Israel, who doesn’t usually do remarkably well in rhythmic gymnastics can feel disappointing to Russian patriots. But to say it was unfair, even though coming a near second, is insulting to Ashram. There’s nothing to say that the judging prior to the 2020 Olympics wasn’t biased towards Russia either.