[UPDATE Aug. 9, 11:30 a.m.] : Ukraine offered a medical explanation Tuesday for why it appeared to quit while competing in the men’s team gymnastics final Monday at Rio Olympic Park. The explanation came via the Instagram account of one of the team’s gymnasts.
Ukraine qualified seventh for the eight-team men’s gymnastics final, but apparently had little interest in winning the event. How else to explain what happened Monday at Rio Olympic Park?
The format for the team final calls for each nation to pick three gymnasts from their five-man squads to compete on each of six apparatus. All three scores count. Only having two gymnasts compete on three of the six apparatus, as Ukraine did for the high bar, parallel bars and rings, is a surefire way to finish last.
In an event where teams are often separated by tenths and hundredths of points, the Ukrainians finished 72 points behind gold-medal winning Japan and 59 points behind seventh-place Germany. Ukraine’s decision to take zeroes in three events left announcers, reporters and gymnastics fans baffled.
NBC gymnastics blogger Andy Thornton tweeted that it was a “planned strategy” by the Ukrainians, but the reasoning behind that strategy was still unclear as of Monday night. Were the Ukrainians hoping to keep their gymnasts fresh for the individual finals? Did multiple Ukrainian gymnasts suffer undisclosed injuries during qualifying? Was Ukraine trying to make a mockery of the sport as a form of protest against the International Gymnastics Federation for what happened in the men’s team final at the 2012 London Games, where Ukraine was denied a bronze after Japan appealed a score on pommel horse that was ultimately changed?
Ukraine’s act of defiance, or at least the team’s willingness to tank the final without any explanation, reminded some of a scene in the 2006 Jeff Bridges film “Stick It,” which gets 6.4 stars out of 10 on IMDb. Hey, that’s a lot better than zero.