The Tolopka'sMeet the Olympics

Women's Team Gymnastics Qualifications: 
Sunday, 17 September 2000

.  We headed off on the train for Olympic Park again this morning, but have now begun taking a smarter train connection.  Ken and Sharon walked down to Darling Harbour the other morning and discovered that the Museum train station is only about a block and half from the hotel -- considerably closer than Central, where we've been going.  The only trick is that you do have to change trains at Central to head for Olympic Park.  Presumably, this is more complication than the average tourist is believed capable of handling, so the Cartan Tours folks route everyone straight to Central.  We, however, are now smugly taking the shortcut.

As we exited the station we pulled out our event tickets, needed because they'll only allow you into the Park if you have tix for that day.  This is when Ken and Sharon discovered that although they had pulled out their tickets for the day, they'd left them sitting on the desk back at the room.  But we were plenty early (thanks to all those Cartan warnings), so it looked like they'd have plenty of time to go back and get 'em.  They begged their way back into the station (harder than you'd think; security wanted them to walk a huge loop to get back in, but finally relented and let them retrace their steps), while we headed into the Park and looked for ways to amuse ourselves.
We assured ourselves that the Olympic Flame was still burning at the stadium, then headed to the corner of the Park that holds the Superdome, where the gymnastics competitions are being held.
Beyond the Superdome is a pretty spiffy artwork/fountain named Osmosis, and beyond Osmosis is Kronos Hill.  With time on our hands we decided to check out both.  The walkway along the side of Osmosis extends out over a wetland, where ducks, ibises, and other aquatic birds paddled around and cheerfully went about their bird business.
The walkway is a grating, and the view through the grating changes colors (following the rainbow) as you move down the walkway.  From the end of the walkway, here's a nice look back at the fountain, the Superdome, and Olympic Stadium beyond.
We took the quick stroll up Kronos Hill "to see what we could see".  Looking back toward the Park (left) is Osmosis and other venues including the baseball park (all the light stanchions) and The Dome (obvious).  Looking beyond the hill we found the Olympic Village where the athletes are housed (right) as a steady stream of buses ferried competitors to and from the venues.
We settled into our seats in the Superdome just before the competition started; Ken and Sharon appeared shortly thereafter, so thankfully they didn't miss anything.  We had excellent seats again in the lower deck near the balance beam apparatus.  This session was a Women's Artistic Gymnastics Team Qualifying round, one of the sessions determining which teams would compete in the Finals on Tuesday and which gymnasts would compete in the Individuals.
We saw two sets of four rotations each for various competitors.  The first round of four consisted of teams from Canada and Great Britain (below right, Hackman on balance beam), as well a "mixed" groups that had competitors but not enough gymnasts for a full team; the latter included competitors from Greece (below, floor exercise), Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Brazil (right, Hypolito on balance beam).  Gymnastics is a real four-ring circus, with simultaneous competitions happening on each of the four apparatuses (floor exercise, beam, vault, uneven bars) -- quite a challenge to keep up with it!  They also had a bad habit of keeping the individual scores posted for only a couple of seconds before changing the scoreboard to the next 
 The second competitors of the afternoon were some of the real powerhouses -- Romania, Russia, Ukraine, China.
We discovered that gymnastics competitions are highly ceremonial.  First you get a parade of the judges, with the head judge for each apparatus introduced.  Then there's the parade of the athletes, with each delegation led by someone with a little sign to identify which country they're from.  Then as each rotation begins, the gymnasts who will be competing on that apparatus line up for inspection in front of the judging team until a little chime sends them on their way to warm up.  (Janet said "It's looks like the judges are supposed to keep an eye out for ringers.")  At left, the Romanians and Byelorussians present themselves, while the Ukrainians are introduced to the vault judges at right.

In between all the introductions, the athletes competed their brains out.  It's amazing when you watch it on TV, it's even more amazing when you can watch them up close in person, especially when you consider the pressure they're under.  Here's an action sequence of Russian diva Svetlana Khorkina on the balance beam:

And here's Maria Olaru from Romania sticking a vault:

Ken and Sharon augmented our Brushes with Olympic Greatness when they started chatting up the mother of Elise Ray (US gymnast), recognizing her from TV coverage of the Olympic Trials.  She was sitting in the row in front of us basically biting her nails over the competition her daughter would be facing over the next few days.
In the end the Russians held onto the top spot, followed by Romania, China, and the Ukraine; the USA held onto fifth place.  (Eventually, the USA finished 6th in the quals, edged out by Spain; still, 6th was good enough to get them into the finals on Tuesday night.)