For sheer beauty, guts, intelligence and brilliance Rhythmic Gymnastics is hard to beat but over the past 50 years this women's sport hase been under a cloud.
The horrors of the Nazi regimes which favoured mass performances by women sporting clubs, hoops and balls, appear abhorrent today as do the mass displays of the North Koreans .
Next the was the domination of the old Soviet Union Club. Again this sport was favoured by this regime and it was promoted throughout the Soviet Empire. Rhythmics is a subjective sport as it relies on judges and judges can be got at! The Soviet block could guarantee placings across the board as their judges dominated the judging panels. The medals were doled out ensuring Soviet domination.
How do I know this? For a short period of four years I was a fully qualified Rhythmic judge. I was just below international level as it takes 7 years to attain this and I became disillusioned with this sport as I saw how the marks could be easily manipulated. It was all done cleverly and quietly but I know this went on.
I became a judge because I had the honor and pleasure to be the balletic coach for New Zealand Commonwealth Games Rope Gold medalist, Angela Walker in 1990. I never imagined that I should ever be part of a sporting event let alone train a medalist.
The main reason I left Rhythmics was the way the gymnasts were encouraged and in the case of the Eastern bock teams forced to become anorexic. In those days the gymnast had to be ultra thin to win plus being part of the eastern block. This was also happening in ballet at the same time. Up until this time I had never heard of anorexia. In my day dancers were about dress size 12 and being ultra thin was not fashionable. e.g. Marylyn Munroe and Margot Fonteyn.
Seeing and experiencing the horror what happens to girls who become anorexic solely for sport and ballet I felt I could no longer be part of the scene. After having 7 very competent young ballet dancers failed by a major examining body because of being as the examiner stated as being too fat I and another ballet teacher left the art. I felt I could no longer teach or be part of organizations that covertly promoted anorexia.
It has taken about 20 years for Rhythmics to address these problems. This was helped by the fall of the Soviet Union as the judging system could at last be reformed. Now all gymnasts have to submit routines which can be assessed for difficulty and TV re-runs can ensure fair play.
The code of the sport is renewed after every Olympics. In the past the Eastern Block could influence this and ensure that the code favoured their gymnasts. Now this is no longer possible and codes are chosen to ensure that a gymnast's career is not over at the age of 18 as in the past. The dress code was also modified as the stark leotards were cruel to any woman over the age of 18. Decoration and style. tunics and tights were allowed.
These changes have taken a couple of decades to introduce but in the London 2012 Olympics the results can be seen. The range of countries competing who are now in for a chance of a medal has increased. The judging is no longer manipulated by the Eastern Block although the Eastern Block is still dominant as today they put in the work that is required to win.
After a decade of just sheer sporting gymnastic elements the artistry has been allowed to return and the sport has regained its beauty.
The groups have been outstanding this Olympics. Especially the Italians whose choreography is brilliant. They could spar with the Russians on equal level would never have been possible in the past.
Would I allow a child of mine to compete on an International level in this sport? No, I don't think so. Subjective sports are still just that - subjective. Much better to be in a sport where the first past the post wins and there is no argument.