Credit: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Every Olympics, there are inevitable debates about why certain events are deemed a sport, let alone one worthy of medals. I was at a beach house with friends last week and watched person after person come into the room where handball was on the television and ask, “What is this?” It’s not that it’s not athletic, it just seems… unnecessary. (I don’t judge sports, mind you. The only time my heart rate is raised is when I’m trying to beat a pack of tourists or businessmen to the door of a Starbucks, so anyone who does anything is golden in my book.)

Today, I pitched my blog editors a quick item after fast-forwarding through a replay online of this morning’s rhythmic gymnastics qualification rounds and seeing that Azerbaijan’s Aliya Garayeva used an instrumental version of “You Can Leave Your Hat On” — complete with heavy breathing — for her ball routine. That is noteworthy in my world. (Watch her at the World Cup below.) Their responses: “What qualifies as a sport? The Olympics has some doozies. Why isn’t ballet an Olympic sport? What about ballroom dancing? Both seem to be on par with rhythmic gymnastics.” “That whole ‘sport’ is a huge ‘WTF’ for me.” And, “Rhythmic gymnastics is the ice dancing of the Summer Olympics. Also hardest sport to spell next to heptathlon.”

“You Can Leave Your Hat On”

I don’t want to argue about whether rhythmic gymnastics is a sport. Yes, the ball, hoop, ribbon, and clubs make it… different. But the fact is, it’s physical, there’s a scoring system, it’s widely practiced around the world, and it’s administered by an international federation — which are some of the IOC’s criteria. Just because something is set to music doesn’t mean it’s not a sport. Just like something can be set to music and not actually be artistic. I think this is why I’m particularly sensitive to the rhythmic gymnastics debate this year: The dance choreography on the floor exercise during the more popular “artistic gymnastics” in London was so bad, at one point (sorry, Beth Tweddle of Great Britain, but you rocked on uneven bars!), I put my head in a pillow and told someone to tell me when it was over. If you want floor to be all about insanely difficult tumbling passes, fine. Then take out the dance element totally. They do leaps and turns on the beam with no music. It would make me sad, but at least it would be more honest.

If you want to give rhythmic gymnastics a chance, individual all-around and group competition resumes Friday and runs through Sunday. After getting goosebumps during her ball routine today (watch it from a different competition below), I’m deep down rooting for Ukraine’s Ganna Rizatdinova. Bonus: If my YouTube research is correct, her ribbon routine on Friday will be to an instrumental version of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” (also below). I suspect Russia’s Evgeniya Kanaeva (pictured), the 2008 gold medalist who currently sits in second, will have a better chance. She got the highest ball score today. See why when you watch her below, from an event earlier this year.


“Smooth Criminal”

P.S. I will be defending ice dancing in two years.

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