The End of the Perfect 10, by Dvora Meyers

>> Saturday, April 29, 2017

TITLE: The End of the Perfect 10: The Making and Breaking of Gymnastics' Top Score - from Nadia to Now
AUTHOR: Dvora Meyers

PAGES: 336
PUBLISHER: Touchstone

TYPE: Non fiction

Just in time for the 2016 Olympic Games and the fortieth anniversary of Nadia Comaneci’s “Perfect 10,” an exciting and insightful account of the controversial world of gymnastics, the recent changes of the scoring system, and why those changes will drive American gymnasts to the top of the sport in the twenty-first century.

It was the team finals of women’s gymnastics in the 2012 London Olympics and McKayla Maroney was on top of her game. The sixteen-year-old US gymnast was performing arguably the best vault of all time, launching herself unimaginably high into the air and sticking a flawless landing. But when her score came, many were baffled: 16.233. Three tenths of a point in deductions stood between her and a perfect score. But if that vault wasn’t perfection, what was?

For years, gymnastics was scored on a 10.0 scale. During this era, more than 100 “perfect” scores were awarded in major international competitions. But when the 10.0 scoring system caused major judging controversies at the 2004 Olympics, international elite gymnastics made the switch to the open-ended scoring system it uses today, making perfect scores a thing of the past—and forever altering the sport in the process.

Gymnastics insider Dvora Meyers examines the evolution of elite women’s gymnastics over the last few decades. With insight, flair, and a boundless love for the sport, Meyers answers questions that gymnastics fans have been asking since the last perfect score was handed out over twenty years ago. She reveals why successful female gymnasts are older and more athletic than they have ever been before, how the United States became a gymnastics powerhouse, and what the future of gymnastics will hold.

Bolstered by dozens of exclusive interviews with professionals representing every aspect of the sport, The End of the Perfect 10 explores a crucial change in one of the most popular Olympic sports, and is a captivating account of elite gymnastics’ entry into the uncharted world of imperfection.
I'm a bit of a fair weather gymnastics fan, in that I only watch it when it's on the telly. That basically means that, since I don't pay for any dedicated sports TV channels (I know myself -I wouldn't leave the house on weekends if I had football on TV), I only watch it every 4 years, during the Olympics.

So how would a book that dives into the nitty-gritty of the gymnastics world and organisation work for someone like me? Well, some of it worked really well, some of it not so much.

The first half, which is basically what is described in the subtitle, worked beautifully. Meyers uses the starting point of the marking system to explore the sport and how it's changed over the years. It looks at the issues around having that top end, that perfect 10, it looks at the politics around it and at the drivers for change, it looks at how it did change,and finally it explores what that has meant.

Meyers is very much an insider and seems to be able to talk to absolutely everyone, so her exploration relies heavily on her interviews. That element could have been integrated a little bit better to the text (what we get are extensive quotes, which feels a bit clunky), but it paints a really good picture.

I loved this bit because it allowed me to really understand a lot of things which were vague feelings and impressions until I read this. I started the book thinking that of course the change in systems must have been a good thing, as it promotes increased difficulty and envelope pushing. That has to be a good thing, right? But after watching lots and lots of YouTube videos to actually see the performances Meyers describes (and you really need to read this where you are able to access online videos) I realised that my personal preference actually leans more towards the perfect execution, even if it's of less difficult skills, over something super hard but that doesn't look as perfect. Who knew?

The second half of the book was a lot less interesting to me. Meyers looks at how the US women's gymastics team became what it is today, after the disappointment of the 2000 Olympics. I confess I read the first chapter of that bit, got really bored, and skimmed the rest. I got the gist of it, and that was more than enough for me. There is also a long section about college gymnastics in the US, which I also found less than fascinating. The only chapter I really liked in the second half was one that looked at why some countries have declined so much, as the US have been in the ascendant (the bit about Romania, particularly, was heartbreaking).

Still, this one is worth reading if only for the first half. I'm glad I did, and I wish I'd found it before the Olympics last year.



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