Pink carpet least of the issues for gymnasts

BY foxsports • July 25, 2012

To go for the gold, gymnasts at the O2 Arena will first have to navigate the pink.

Acres and acres and acres of it.

The competition floor at the gymnastics venue is awash in yards of eye-popping pink fabric. Imagine the inside of the world's largest Barbie Dreamhouse and you get the idea.

''It's definitely a little bit in your face,'' British men's team member Sam Oldham said.

And requires a bit of an adjustment for the athletes.

U.S. men's team captain Jonathan Horton joked earlier in the week he had to ''squint'' while at the training center a few buildings over, where the pink stuff is even more ubiquitous. Trying to differentiate between the chalk-covered high bar, cream-colored mat and the surrounding carpet can be tough.

The mishaps continued during practice at the O2 on Wednesday. And the Americans were hardly alone trying to work out the kinks.

Three-time world champion and heavy gold-medal favorite Kohei Uchimura wiped out twice on high bar, including a frightening spill in which he flung himself 10 feet forward and came dangerously close to landing on the back of his neck.

Horton bit it three times on the same event a short time later as he tried to complete a relatively routine release. The 2008 silver medalist on high bar is hardly blaming the games' interior decorator, and neither are the rest of his teammates.

''What's that saying, that real men wear pink?'' parallel bars world champion Danell Leyva said. ''Well, real men compete on pink floors, too.'''

Then again, they don't really have a choice. Besides, the color is the least of the issues for the Americans.

Organizers are using equipment made by Gymnova, a France-based company that differs quite a bit from the stuff used by USA Gymnastics.

Gymnova uses wood handles on the parallel bars and still rings, equipment that is made of fiberglass by U.S. equipment providers. The floor has foam underneath, not springs.

''It's definitely different,'' U.S. floor exercise and vault specialist Jake Dalton said. ''Your grip is different ... it's something you have to get used to.''

Assistant U.S. coach Tom Meadows said it's not unusual for it to take awhile to get comfortable. The U.S. competed on equipment made outside the country at the world championships in Tokyo last fall, where the women won the team title and the men captured bronze.

''There's an adjustment period, but you get used to it,'' Meadows said.

Meadows pointed out it's not the equipment as much as the mats that have been an obstacle in London. In the U.S., gymnasts compete on blue mats. The mats in London look a bit like red velvet cake, with the vanilla-color center affecting depth perception.

Think about throwing yourself a dozen feet in the air then trying to grab a narrow bar covered in white stuff that appears to bleed into the background.

''That's why you see guys missing releases in podium training,'' Meadows said.

Such mistakes need to be corrected by the time the team competition begins on Saturday. The next time the men walk onto the floor of the O2, it will be for real.

And nothing, not even a rug better-suited for Hello Kitty, can be used as an excuse.

''If you start thinking about that,'' Dalton said, ''you stop thinking about gymnastics.''

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