When the world’s greatest gymnasts kept falling off the vault horse during the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, there was a pretty good reason.
The vault was accidentally set five centimeters too low. Even when they figured out what was wrong and fixed it, the athletes’ confidence was shot and it ruined their performance.
When my hero, 11-year-old gymnast Kiersten Brooks, fell off the uneven bars Sunday afternoon in Pigeon Forge, I figured it had to be caused by something like that.
Some outside force interfering. The uneven bars are her bread and butter.
Between February and April of 2018, Kiersten earned four consecutive gold medals on the uneven bars.
However, her mishap Sunday wasn’t about the height of the bars. It was about the size of her ambition.
This year Kiersten moved up to the tougher Xcel Platinum division against the older and more experienced girls.
And despite the fact that she had the flu all last week, when it was “go time” Sunday afternoon, Kiersten chose to “Go for it” and do the hardest routine with the highest difficulty bonus points on the toughest apparatus.
It takes a lot of guts to let it all hang out like that.
Even when she falls it’s graceful
And I've got to hand it to her. Even when she falls it's graceful.
It was so smooth, I literally thought it was part of her routine.
She didn’t cry. She didn’t pout. She didn’t whine and blame Michael McDowell for failing to push her across the finish line first to win the Daytona 500.
With stoic business acumen, Kiersten got back on the uneven bars, completed her tough routine from the beginning, and stuck the dismount.
The judges take off a full point for falling, but Kiersten still earned a score of 8.850. You add that point and she not only wins the uneven bars with a mile to spare, but she wins the overall gold medal.
Despite her fall, Kiersten placed fifth in uneven bars, ahead of more than half her competitors in that event.
Last weekend, I spent my second consecutive Daytona 500 Sunday watching little girls do gymnastics in Pigeon Forge rather than following my lifelong tradition of watching “The Great American Race” on TV.
Believe me, there was more drama in Pigeon Forge than the Daytona 500 could ever hope to achieve.
I finally get to go watch “Monkey Girl”
My main purpose for attending is to take photos and video of little niece Kiersten, who I like to call “Monkey Girl” because of her tree climbing skills and goofy sense of humor.
She competes in huge gymnastics meets all over the Southeast from Daytona to New Orleans to Nashville to Asheville. Still to come this spring are Athens, Ga.; Greensboro, N.C.; Clarksville, Tenn.; and then the regionals in Hickory, N.C.
Her parents try to take photos and video with their phones when I’m not there, but my fancy Times News equipment gives the finished product a little extra polish. I’m no pro photographer, but I got a cool lens.
Lynn goes to some of Kiersten’s closer events like Asheville and Nashville, but I have to stay home and babysit our spoiled little dog, Maggie Mae.
Pigeon Forge is the only event we take a chance on leaving Maggie alone inside the house, hoping we have time to get back before her bladder and bowels explode.
Kiersten is a member of the Meadowview Gymnastics Academy based in Kingsport, and apparently those folks know what they’re doing.
Taking home the hardware
Individually they placed 1-4 in beam, with Kiersten earning gold; they placed 1, 2 and 5 in vault, with Kiersten earning silver; they placed top 3 in floor with Kiersten tied for silver; and they placed 1, 3, 4 and 5 in uneven bars, with Kiersten placing fifth.
No surprise, in the overall individuals they were 1-4 with Kiersten earning silver. When I interviewed her afterwards, Kiersten said she wasn’t disappointed about losing the overall title to a teammate. If it had been a gymnast from another team, it would have been a different story, but we know that’s not going to happen.
With the top 4 overall individual scores, Meadowview Gymnastics Academy waltzed away with the overall team championship as well.
All in all, not a bad way to spend Daytona 500 Sunday, especially considering the fact that I still got to watch the last 25 laps, including the big wipeout caused by Paul Menard.
After the girls were finished, we rushed to the awards room to stake out seats on the front row. Nascar.com sometimes streams race footage live on its website. There's no commentary, and its not the TV broadcast. It's just some guy on the roof atop the front grandstand with a camera, or you can choose from a handful of in-car views.
I put my phone on my little tripod which doubled as a TV stand and drew a pretty good crowd watching the race as we waited for the medal ceremony to begin.
As usual, I make it all about me
It would be highly out of character for me to fail to find something to complain about.
The Vault and the Floor events were on the sides of the competition floor where spectators could watch their kids with an unobstructed view.
But the Beam and Uneven Bars are in the middle for the floor, and every team is competing on one apparatus at the same time. There are no elevated bleachers, so with spectators at floor level there’s going to be some obstructed views.
As a side note, you should know I’m the type of person who is hypersensitive about not being inconsiderate. I would never knowingly stand in someone’s way or block someone’s view.
Not everybody is equipped with the considerate gene, however, so here’s a pro-tip for some of these badge-wearing adult coaches and event officials from Mr. Hypersensitive.
If you’re not doing anything, and a kid is performing in front of the judges five feet away from where you’re standing staring blankly into your phone, set your big butt down. Or better yet, go somewhere else. Get out of the way.
Not only are you distracting the kids trying to perform, but you’re blocking the view of the parents.
Tiger uncle goes rogue
You’ve heard of tiger moms. Apparently I’m becoming a tiger uncle.
A wise man named Larry once told me, “If you think an evil thought, only God can hear it and He forgives you. But, if you speak that evil thought, the devil hears it and will use it against you.”
I was thinking some pretty evil thoughts about those inconsiderate adults Sunday afternoon. Fortunately my mouth stayed shut, it was heard only by God, and He forgave me.
But the uneven bars were so obstructed I decided to “go rogue”.
The uneven bars were closest to a huge black curtain, which I assume was off-limits to mortal humans and accessible to only event officials and “The Mighty Oz”.
I said, To heck with it. The worst they can do is throw me out, and then I’ll go sit in the car and listen to the race on the radio.
So I went behind the black curtain and emerged into forbidden territory with my cameras. If you watch the video or look at the photo gallery in the online version of this article, when you get to the uneven bars you’ll notice we’re at a different angle.
In the immortal words of heavy metal icon Judas Priest, I was “Breaking the law, breaking the law, breaking the law.”
I got some funny looks from the badge-wearing elite, but no ejection. And God forgave me.
Top 100 in the nation
However, there was no good place to shoot Kiersten’s performance on the beam. I threw a couple of shots into the photo gallery but most weren’t usable. I didn’t want to expose the inconsiderate people and turn them into pariahs in their communities.
Not only was that her only gold medal performance of the day, but Kiersten’s score of 9.775 was listed among the Xcel Platinum Top 100 scores in the nation so far for 2019.
Tiger uncle earned a fist bump and a hug. For me that was pure gold.
And although the photo bombers received a severe cussing in my mind, in the end they too were forgiven — until next time.