Bandwagon fans deprived of full experience

Liza Mansbach

While bandwagon fans exist in every sport, they come out in full force during the Olympics.

For two weeks, the athletes of  sports such as gymnastics, swimming, and beach volleyball are elevated to the same celebrity status as pop stars and members of the Kardashian family.

But latching on to a sport only during the Olympics deprives the viewer of the full experience.

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Even though the Olympics are the only time most people watch gymnastics, they aren’t the only gymnastics event, not even close.

In addition to World Championships, which happen every non-Olympic year, there are a host of important international meets such as Pan-Americans, Jesolos, and Pacific Rims that happen annually. And those are just the meets in which Americans compete in.

The Olympics are the climax of the gymnastics quadrennium, but not the entire story. It’s like only watching the last ten minutes of a movie, it’s still exciting, but not nearly as satisfying because you haven’t seen the plot line develop.

And just like in a movie, most of the important drama and character development happens before the opening ceremony begins.

Gymnasts regularly say they find Olympic trials more stressful than the Olympics themselves. As America has grown to in to a Gymnastics Superpower, they are more and more talented girls coming through the ranks,  making it harder and harder to garner a spot on the Olympic team. especially this year, when teams were capped at an all time low of merely five gymnasts, which created even fiercer competition.

And then there are the gymnasts who don’t even make it to trials. In a sport dominated by pre-pubescent teenagers, four years is a long time.

Rebecca Bross was hailed as the next Olympic champ in 2009, coming from the same gym as the previous two Olympic all-around gold medalists. She was expected to “three-peat” in London, until a massive knee injury turned her into a mediocre two-event specialist, and relegated her to a mere footnote in gymnastics history.

Even the gymnasts who made it to the Olympics have rich backstories that viewers must understand to truly appreciate the sport.

Aly Raisman racked up three medals in London, two gold and a bronze – more than any other gymnasts in 2012. Yet she could have easily taken another medal, a bronze in all-around, if she hadn’t done something entirely out of character.  She fell on beam.

While falling isn’t a particularly surprising event, it was for Raisman. She was known for turning out routines with the dependability of a Japanese car manufactures. Even her mistakes were consistent. The causal observer misses this development and mistakes her tragedy for simply an ill-timed misstep.

Unfortunately, for the causal observer the Olympics is the only exposure towards gymnastics they ever have.

It’s not entirely the public’s fault. The media is one of the biggest culprits in this sudden spike in fandom. Sites that often barely cover sports are suddenly putting Olympic stories on the front page. As medal hopefuls accept one lucrative ad contract after another, their faces begin to populate almost every magazine cover and billboard in the nation. With such a huge boost in publicity, it’s no wonder people jump on the bandwagon.

Viewers frequently tune in to catch the season finale of programs, despite having missed the first ten episodes. While one may gain some entertainment from only catching the finale, or watching only the Olympics, it’s not half as rewarding without the whole story.