With the World Gymnastics Championships going on this week in Montreal, it's natural for any fan to look back on Hollywood's portrayal of the sport with fond memories. Films like Stick It showed us that you can do the sport you love without sacrificing your individuality, while shows like Make It Or Break It introduced many to the importance of teamwork and friendship in gymnastics. More recent films such as Full Out and The Bronze have shown how people can come back out of retirement to the sport they love in unorthodox ways.
As enjoyable as these movies and series are, they present many common, negative stereotypes and myths about gymnastics. Whether they're about a gymnast's age or the relations between competitors, these myths are most often negative and are in desperate need of busting.
You Must Be Young To Be Good At Gymnastics
In The Bronze, we learn in the film that as the protagonist, fictional Olympic bronze-medalist Hope Greggory (played by Melissa Rauch), grew up, her coach all but forced her to retire from the sport simply because she wasn't a kid anymore. Even though 16 or 17 years is typically considered to be the prime age for women's gymnastics, it would be a mistake to think that a gymnast can be successful only at that age.
Take Uzbekistan gymnast Oksana Chusovitina, for example. At the age of 42, she's competed in the past 7 Olympic Games, and has remained competitive on the international stage throughout almost all of her career, placing 7th on the vault at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
In Make It Or Break It, the girls are constantly reminded that they only have one chance to get to the Olympics, but in reality, this certainly isn't true. As we can see from the 2016 games alone, making it to multiple Olympics is actually very possible and is becoming more common in the sport.
Women's Gymnastics Is Always Catty
Unnecessary drama is prominently featured in both Make It Or Break It and Stick It. The former is filled with petty boy problems and dysfunctional friendships, while the latter puts tensions and grudges between different competitors on full display.
Because so many gymnastics-themed films and shows often feature catty girl drama, one would assume that the relations between different gymnasts are just as bitter and cold as the ones portrayed on the big and small screens. In reality, the world of women's gymnastics is actually very friendly, sportsmanlike and filled with camaraderie.
The gymnasts are all good friends, as can be seen when many of them came together on social media to console Romanian gymnast Larisa Iordache. She had suffered an injury during the qualifying round of the 2017 World Championships and it forced her to withdraw from the competition. Check out some of their messages here:
The women all voiced their sympathies and support toward Iordache, even though she was their competition. Nobody acted as though an obstacle to victory was removed with her injury, and that shows just how much respect the gymnasts have for each other.
We actually do see hints of this friendliness between gymnasts in both Make It Or Break It and Stick It when the teammates reconcile and set aside their differences with each other, but these moments are too often overshadowed by the overbearing amount of melodrama and scandal.
Men's Gymnastics Isn't As Interesting As Women's
Male gymnasts make appearances in Full Out and Make It Or Break It, but they always seem to take the backseat when compared to the women in terms of importance. In The Bronze, Hope literally tells her rival, fellow fictional Olympic medalist Lance Tucker (played by Sebastian Stan), that nobody cares about men's gymnastics.
This seems to mirror the common misconception that the men's competition isn't as interesting as the women's because it's less dramatic. However, just because the men's side of gymnastics isn't as flashy, doesn't mean that the competition isn't just as interesting as the women's competition.
The all-around final at the 2016 Olympics was an intense duel for the gold between the Ukranian gymnast Oleg Vernyayev and Kohei Uchimura of Japan that remained unpredictable until the final moments, with Uchimura ultimately being crowned the winner. Also at the 2016 games, Britain's Max Whitlock made history as the first British gymnast to ever win a gold medal at the Olympics.
The Bronze actually comments on the issue of the men getting less coverage by using Lance's jealousy of Hope to show that even though he had the more successful gymnastics career, she's still more popular. Lance's jealousy is understandable because although men's gymnastics is just as fun to watch as women's gymnastics, it seems to be often cast aside by Hollywood and the media.
While Make It Or Break It, Stick It, Full Out and The Bronze are all very entertaining products of the entertainment industry that center around gymnastics, they all employ common clichés and exaggerations about the sport that make them more dramatic, and ultimately very unrealistic. Hollywood's tendency to prioritize dramatic effect over accuracy is a problem because it can very well lead to people seeing these negative about the sport as true.
What are some other myths and stereotypes about sports you often find reproduced in Hollywood productions? Let us know in the comments below!