Blind Landing podcast explores gymnastics scandal at 2000 Olympics

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The gymnastic jump is methodical. A small step, you know, an inch is a very big difference, “says former US Olympic gymnast Elise Ray in the new podcast. Blind landing. “It completely plays a role in your run, your hurdle and your entry. “

Ray was one of the top all-around contenders at the 2000 Sydney Games until it was time to jump. She flipped into the wrong angle and crashed hard on the carpet, almost landing on her neck. “I thought it was nervous, I thought my footsteps were wrong… something I was doing,” Ray said. “I blamed myself.”

But it wasn’t his fault. The vault had been placed two inches too low. A staggering 17 other gymnasts also made their way through the event, which ended up looking “more like high school stuff than the mark of real Olympians,” ESPN reported at the time. Even the favorite for the gold medal, Svetlana Khorkina, landed at the back on her first jump.

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The accident is still one of the biggest mistakes in Olympic history. In Blind landing, Host Ari Saperstein talks to several vaulters (some speaking for the first time) about how the measurement error casts doubt on the whole competition and puts them in serious danger.

elise ray from united states

Ray performing in vault at the 2000 Olympics.

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On July 29, 2000, Ray won the US Gymnastics Championships after landing a Yurchenko full double, one of the toughest jumps at the time. It also secured him a place on the Olympic team that year. “The absolute pinnacle, right? Ray said on Blind landing. “It’s what everyone wants.

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When she fell on vaulting at games a month later, she attributed it to nerves. As well as many other gymnasts who also fell. It wasn’t until Australian gymnast Allana Slater questioned the height of the jump that gymnasts began to understand what was going on. “I spent countless hours on the jump, and I just remember thinking that jump looked low. It really looks like a low vault, ”Slater says on the podcast.

She spoke to her trainer about her theory. “I thought there was no way that it was safe for myself, but also that it was not good for everyone,” she said. “I just remember standing there talking to the girls on the other end… ‘The trunk is not at the right height. It’s too low. It’s really low. Check it out. Doesn’t that seem at the wrong height to you? Thinking, maybe I just went crazy.

A group of Olympic officials came out with tape measures and, in the end, Slater was not at all “crazy”. The arch was actually two inches shorter than it should have been.

But how did this happen?

In Blind landing, Saperstein says it was not a “Tonya Harding situation”. It is because no one had anything to gain. “No one I have spoken to, no one has ever floated the idea of ​​foul play or sabotage. Partly because 18 gymnasts from such a wide range of countries competed in the jump at the wrong height.” “The day before the women’s all-around, someone really messed up and mis-adjusted it, putting the jump a notch or two inches too low.”

And it wasn’t just that the safe was misconfigured. At almost every turn, the checks and balances intended to catch the error have failed. “Countless people – judges, technicians, officials – who are supposed to check – quadruple-check – all the equipment for this very reason,” says Saperstein.

Not only did the error cast a shadow of doubt over the games, it was also very dangerous. According to Blind landing, a Spanish gymnast almost collided with the vault. Another gymnast from Brazil bounced off her head. And Annika Reeder from Great Britain injured her ankle and had to be taken off the mat.

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Annika Reeder of Great Britain receives help from her coaches after injuring her ankle on vault.

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To correct the error, the Olympic officials allowed the gymnasts to redo. But by then, the error had already taken its toll. Confidence shaken, many gymnasts fell on their other events and the medal contenders were no longer in contention. “Maybe I would have won the all-around competition. But maybe everything is, ”says Svetlana Khorkina in Blind landing. “No one apologized to me.

svetlana khorkina

The favorite for the gold medal, the Russian Svetlana Khorkina, falls on her jump on vault.

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Kym Dowdell, responsible for gymnastics competitions at the 2000 Games, said on Blind landing that “mistakes are never okay.” Never. But what’s even more unacceptable is when you don’t learn from those mistakes. So there was a lot of learning about this error and it has been fixed. Dowdell goes on to assure listeners that there is now “a full process” at the Olympics where technical authorities “go around and measure the device in great detail before each session of the competition.”

For the gymnasts, the way the situation was handled left a lasting impact. “It was sort of a delayed anger,” Ray said on the podcast. “But after the fact, kinda when you come home and think, like ‘Wow, this was supposed to be the best competition of my career. It was my dream, it was my… so yeah. The anger started to set in for sure. And the questions of “How did that happen? Who let this happen?” These questions were big, they were big, and that anger stuck with me for a few years.

After the Olympics, Ray left elite gymnastics to pursue a college career and later became a gymnastics coach. “I am 100% happy and feel very blessed on the path that has led me to where I am”, she said on Blind landing. “It was just, like, pretty terrible back then, but life is kind of like that, right?” It’s unexpected and twists and turns and you have to be grounded in some kind of faith that you are on your way.

The five episodes of Blind landing are now available on Apple Podcasts and all major podcasting platforms.

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