Posted 13 August 2008 - 06:01 AM
I feel terrible for Sacramone. She didn't single-handedly lose the competition and it's disturbing to hear her tearfully explain how she was the only one to make a mistake so it must be her fault. The Chinese were near-perfect. There was really no way the U.S. could have beaten them unless they were perfect (they'd have to overcome the start value difference, leaving virtually no room for even smallish errors).
If my math is correct, here's what would have needed to happen to win. Let's suppose Sacramone earned the 15.95 she got in qualifying on beam. That adds .85 to the score, bringing the total to 187.375 overall. The Chinese finished with 188.9 overall, so the U.S. team would have needed to get 1.55 more points on floor to win the gold (a 45.975 combined score). That would have been .775 better than they did in qualifying and .175 better than the highest-of-the-finals scores that the Chinese got.
For context, the higest score on floor in the finals was 15.55 from some Romanian chick. So, if you add the 1.55 all onto one U.S. routine, it would have meant a 15.675 for Sacramone, a 16.65 for Johnson or a 16.75 for Liukin. Dividing the 1.55 roughly equally among all three, it's 14.645 for Sacramone, 15.62 for Johnson and 15.72 for Liukin. It's basically impossible. There's nowhere else they could really get points, either. These calculations already added .85 to the overall beam score and floor was the only other place the team really faltered.
As for age: I don't think Bela necessarily thinks 12-year-olds should be competing (well... maybe. he's pretty hardcore), but that it is very easy for countries to falsify documents to make them whatever age they want. So, he feels they might as well just scrap the rule and let anyone compete. Plus, the difference between 15 and 19 in gymnastics is huge.
Here's the advantage to being young: first of all, they're pre-pubescent, which means they aren't dealing with those pesky balance-altering physical developments and growth spurts. This is an issue in ice skating as well -- the center of gravity when you're 4'11" is different than when you're 5'2". If you grow three or four inches in six months, it takes time to figure out how to control the new height, weight and proportions.
Since that 13-year-old is smaller, lighter and more flexible, she is putting less stress on her body and is thus less likely to be injured. Major and minor injuries are very common in gymnastics, especially as the gymnasts get older. Look at the U.S. team: Alicia Sacramone, 20, has had major knee surgery as well as back problems. Chellsie Memmel, 20, has a long injury history. Nastia Liukin, 18, already had ankle surgery. Bridget Sloan, 16, had arthroscopic surgery on her knee. Shawn Johnson, 16, had some leg injury problems (her shins were developing stress fractures). Samantha Peszek, 16, doesn't seem to have had any major injuries yet. At the selection camp, a 17-year-old, Shayla Worley, broke her leg.
It'a real advantage to throw a 13-year-old out there instead of a 17-year-old. The 13-year-old is far less likely to have gone through knee surgery, shoulder reconstruction, suffered a dozen stress fractures and/or sprained their ankles 30 different times.
Also, kids that young are still pretty much fearless. I've read some stuff about teenage car accidents, and some study showed that teenagers can't really fully comprehend the risks of their actions. Apparently the risk-realizing part of the brain isn't fully developed until we're 23-25ish (it's a bit earlier in women than men). So, while a 17-year-old doesn't fully understand the immense risks she's taking with a triple-twisting double back whatever dismount from the uneven bars, a 13-year-old understands it even less. They just go for it.