The Olympic Games are not just an arena made for winners. Losers can sometimes coexist peacefully in the mix. Gabby Douglas of the US lit up the gymnastics venue on Thursday by winning the women’s all-round gold medal ahead of Russia’s Victoria Komova. A mere 0.259 of a point separated the victor from the vanquished.
Sport is cruel at times. The hard labour of four years, or perhaps even more, can sometimes fall short by fractions. This is what separated Douglas’s world from Komova’s: A small misstep; a little hesitation on the bars; a little hop sideways; a fluffed landing. There is simply no space for that in the perfect world of the gymnasts. Everything must be perfect. Nothing out of synch, out of step, or out of rhythm.
Komova stumbled on the mat at a crucial juncture while duelling Douglas for the gold and her whole world came tumbling down. It matters little when the stars are all aligned against you, despite having sweet skills, a balletic, artistic style reminiscent of Svetland Khorkina, the Russian gymnast who won seven Olympic medals, and a former gymnast mother who is also in the judges’ panel at the Federation Internationale de Gymnastique (FIG).
Komova was a winner who just could not win on the day. It is a statement that she must have repeated to herself as the she looked into the mirror the next day as if to convince her own countenance.
But Komova doesn’t need that mirror as long as she has the courage to look back and forward at her distinguished career. She didn’t lose, she had just failed to win a competition that could have been in her grasp.
There will be many more last-second disappointments. It is the philosophy of gymnastics. In the cold light of day, one must rationalise what has been achieved and banish the cruel, cold logic of what could have been.
Komova will be 21 when Rio rolls up in 2016, although that is perhaps not the perfect age to harbour ambitions of a medal. She would have finished with gymnastics. This is why she must at least strive to overcome the cruel twist of fate and deficit in London and go on to become an enduring and endearing champion. In doing so, she must never forget that the scales of justice for sports figures teeter erratically and are influenced by unseen fingers.