Armchair Pundit

GB make history in complex, thrilling drama

Alex Chick

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This was a momentous day for British Gymnastics, and not just because our men's team won the country's first medal in the sport for 100 years.

No, this was the moment when a nation became experts on the finer points of the rules.

How else to explain the cacophonous booing within the North Greenwich Arena, and nationwide outrage, as a Japanese appeal relegated Our Boys from silver to bronze?

As far as I understand it, which is not very far, the controversy surrounded Kohei Uchimura's 'dismount' from the pommel horse, and whether it constituted a fall - this was the fateful moment that had initially seen Japan plummet out of the medals.

When the verdict came through, the Arena lurched from delirious joy to open fury.

We didn't really know what had happened, but losing a place on appeal never feels good. So the boos cascaded down, particularly when the PA announcer, either naively or mischievously, invited the crowd to: "Show your appreciation to the judges as they leave the arena."

The crowd soon recovered - easy come, easy go - but spare a thought for the poor Ukraine team who missed out on the podium.

Hugely dramatic and slightly confusing; it provided a fitting end to the afternoon.

Though it has always been an Olympic favourite, I had never attended a gymnastics event, and the team competition provided a dizzying introduction.

Each team takes turns to perform on six pieces of equipment, with up to four people competing simultaneously.

It made things hard to make sense of in a frenetic opening few 'rotations'. As I watched Britain tackle the rings, I heard an 'Ooh' and there was an American on the floor after flying off the pommel horse.

The next minute my attention was caught by a Japanese athlete getting a piggyback out of the arena.

What was going on? How could I possibly work out what was going on?

I had just come from the men's 10m synchronised diving final, which has a nice, linear narrative and only one thing happening at a time. The gymnastics was just so complex. I was dizzy with the number of interweaving subplots.

It was like graduating from Postman Pat to The Wire.

One of the first things you learn is not pay too much attention to the scoreboard. Scores on different pieces of apparatus are not directly comparable, and they were combined in an unhelpful cumulative that disregarded how many gymnasts from each country had performed.

At some point in the third rotation I looked at the scores and saw Britain leading - by a large margin!

Then I realised they were the only team to have finished the rotation, and thus their total was made up of nine individual scores to their rivals' eight or six.

As the competition went on, things felt as though they were slowing down. I became accustomed to the multitudinous action, and began to filter out the chaff.

Britain looked set for a medal until Sam Oldham fell from the high bar. Now they had a job on to overhaul Ukraine just to take bronze.

That they did in a thrilling final rotation - this time the running scores did count - with Ukraine's rings performances alternating with the British floor routines.

Kristian Thomas nailed his and the arena rose to acclaim bronze.

Meanwhile, the long-forgotten Japanese - seemingly a certainty for second behind China - blew it, as Uchimura departed the pommel horse and the crowd erupted as the scoreboard showed Britain in second.

The bittersweet finish - another Wire staple - briefly soured the atmosphere, but after 100 years of waiting, the colour hardly mattered.

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NORTH GREENWICH ARENA - VENUE SCOREBOARD

ACCESSIBILITY: 6/10 - It is a bit of a hike down the Jubilee Line from the Olympic Park, but the entrance is right next to the tube station. And, as a dedicated events venue (in its non-IOC-approved guise as the O2 Arena), everything was very slick inside. Also - and this is a handy hint that may not appear on the official website - if you arrive just before your event starts, you dodge the queues almost entirely.

VIEW: 7/10 - The issue here did not surround the spectators' vantage point - all very good - but the difficulty of following action on multiple pieces of apparatus. Despite attempts to explain from the stadium announcers, it did get somewhat confusing. The shocking pink decor is nice, though.

SPECTACLE: 9/10 - The strength, flexibility and - in the team competition - versatility of the gymnasts is dazzling. You have to pay attention to really get to know individuals in a frantic competition like this though. The climax was outstanding, and even the appeal process added drama.

FANS: 9/10 - Soldiers were drafted in to fill the press seating early on, which became problematic when it became clear the seats were needed by journalists. The squaddies left and were briefly replaced by Sir Steve Redgrave, before he departed to join Princes William and Harry, and Denise Lewis, around the corner. The crowd were magnificent, applauding fine performances from all nationalities, and raising the roof when Britain won a medal. A pity a few chose to boo Japan at the medal ceremony.

X-FACTOR: 8/10 - You shouldn't like a venue more just because Britain win a medal in it - but come on, how can you not? It loses marks for not being either a) historic or b) purpose-built, but this 20,000 bowl provides a perfect setting for gymnastics.

Total score - 39/50

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Tomorrow I visit the Olympics with my family, and investigate the ease of carting a two-year-old from event to event. It should be fun.

Alex Chick will be writing from London 2012 throughout the Olympic Games.

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