Women’s Elite Gymnastics
Women’s elite artistic gymnastics receive media coverage once every four years: during the Olympic Games. The Olympics are the culmination of a gymnastics “quad,” or four-year cycle. While all gymnastics fans look forward to the Olympic Games and the excitement and media attention they bring to the sport, fans seek information about the sport and its athletes, coaches, and skills in the four years between the Games. Gymnastics blogs have appeared as a resource for the sport’s fans. Gymnastics blogs are a hierarchal community which values gymnastics knowledge and excludes occasional fans. Three popular gymnastic blogs that exhibit this community are “The Couch Gymnast”, “Triple Twist Gym blog”, and “Get a Grip Gym blog”.
The primary function of gymnastics blogs for readers is to receive information about women’s elite gymnastics and discuss this information with other dedicated fans. Bazerman notes in his essay “Genre and Identity” that participants in a genre “orient towards a communicative social place [taking] on the mood, attitude, and actional possibilities of that place” (Bazerman 1).
He states that when engaging in a genre, “You know what you are getting yourself into, and what range of relations and objects will likely be realized there” (Bazerman 1). Popular gymnastics blogs provide a mix of relevant news, opinion pieces, and discussion regarding the sport. When readers visit a gymnastics blog, they know that they are entering a website that is geared towards women’s elite gymnastics. They visit the site in order to engage in gymnastics discourse with other fans, read fun articles and features, and learn from gymnastics experts.
In order to draw knowledgeable viewers to read their articles, gymnastics blogs use ethos to establish their credibility as gymnastics experts. This is important because if readers cannot trust the source of information they receive, they will not continue to visit the blog in question. Bloggers establish their credibility in a variety of ways. “The Couch Gymnast” establishes its credibility in their “About Editors and Contributors” section.
This page lists all of the writers of “The Couch Gymnast” and their credentials. Most writers have a lot of experience in gymnastics; for example, the creator of “The Couch Gymnast” has written for International Gymnast Magazine, a well-respected gymnastics publication. Other writers have press passes for major gymnastics events such as the American Cup and Olympic Trials. Bloggers for “Triple Twist Gym blog” and “Get a Grip Gym blog” establish credibility because of their past experience as gymnasts and with their detailed descriptions of complicated gymnastics scoring.
For example, Bekah of “Get a Grip Gym blog” wrote a post entitled, “Code Fun with Prelim Routines,” in which she broke down five gymnast’s routines during the Olympic Team Preliminary competition. This post was by request, indicating that other gymnastics fans trust her interpretation of the Code of Points and her knowledge of the sport. The gymnastics bloggers have to prove that they know a lot about gymnastics: whether through their credentials for other publications, past experiences in the sport, or detailed scoring analysis posts. These three blogs have a large internet following, which proves that their readers trust them as a source of gymnastics news.
In addition to establishing credibility as gymnastics scoring experts, authors must also prove their knowledge of gymnastics culture and history. They do so by featuring fun posts that entertain the reader with videos of old gymnastics routines, interviews with gymnasts, and historical pieces about the sport. For example, “The Couch Gymnast” frequently does birthday profiles of popular elite gymnasts in order to both provide information and entertain readers.
One recent example is a profile of famed Russian gymnast Anna Pavlova, which offers fun facts and statistics on the gymnast. They also feature posts of the history of gymnastics and interviews with current elite gymnasts and coaches. “Triple Twist Gym blog” and “Get a Grip Gym blog” also feature interviews with gymnasts and other fun features such as “Triple Twist Gymblog’s” post, “Romanian Floor Choreography from the 1970s,” which shows YouTube videos of unique choreography. These features entertain readers and communicate knowledge between writer and community member.
The author’s vast knowledge of both gymnastics scoring and its culture and history allows them to establish hierarchal power over readers in the genre of gymnastics blogs. Charles Bazerman writes in his essay, “Genre and Identity” that genres function as a form of life, “joining speakers and hearers, writers and readers, in particular relations of a familiar and intelligent sort” (Bazerman 1). Gymnastics blogs are no exception to this definition of the genre. There is a relationship between writer and reader in this community.
The writers or speakers in gymnastics blogs are the authors of the blogs. In many cases, the blogs are written by just one author, but some blogs feature multiple writers in order to create posts more frequently. For example, “The Couch Gymnast” has two editors and ten contributing writers. This allows them to have multiple new articles each day as well as differing perspectives. The writers of gymnastics blogs tend to be lifelong fans of the sport who blog for entertainment. None of the gymnastics blogs that I have visited feature advertisements. This indicates that most gymnastics bloggers write because they want to share their love of the sport and engage with other gymnastics fans online.
Popular gymnastic bloggers have extensive knowledge of the sport and its athletes, coaches, and skills. Gymnastics has a notoriously complicated scoring system and receives very little mainstream coverage, so an understanding of the ins-and-outs of the sport and access to gymnastics news is a premium that many gymnastics fans will seek out. The writer’s exclusive knowledge forms the hierarchy within the gymnastics blogging community. Readers rely on gymnastics bloggers to give them information regarding upcoming competitions, rule changes, and expert opinions on controversies. Gymnastics competitions are not broadcast on television and are not covered in the news, so readers would not receive this information otherwise.
They also rely on bloggers to answer their questions. One example is an anonymous commentator on “Get a Grip Gym blog” who asked, “Could you please do a code comparison of what 2008 routines would have scored in 2012?”In the end, the power lies with the author. If the author chooses not to share their knowledge of gymnastics scoring or news, or answer a question, the reader will not benefit. This dynamic is evidence of a clear social hierarchy: the blogger is the source of desired information, and the reader is at their mercy.
In this hierarchy, the author is the source of information and initiates the community between reader and writer by first creating posts. These blogs are not exclusive and anyone with internet access can view and comment on their posts. However, there is a clear bias in the blogs, particularly “Triple Twist Gym blog” and “Get a Grip Gym blog”, against occasional and surface-level fans. Occasional fans are gymnastics fans that become interested in the sport during Olympic years or have a rudimentary understanding of the sport. Occasional fans showcase their ignorance on gymnastic blogs by making posts and asking questions only about gymnasts they know from media coverage or mainstream news or making incorrect assertions.
For example, on Get a Grip Gym blog, blogger Bekah wrote an article entitled “Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney 2012 UB Olympic Champions,” following the United States Olympic Gymnastics Trials, writing,
In the past 24 hours, I’ve read the following things from gymnastics fans or bloggers:
‘Aly is great on bars and beam.’ ‘Kyla’s strongest events: Floor and vault’ ‘Maroney should be great on bars.’ A tweeter putting Nastia in her Olympic floor lineup. I’m starting to get frustrated… Aly is NOT great on bars, Kyla is NOT strongest on the floor, and Maroney will NOT be great on bars. Those are just facts! (Get a Grip Gym blog).
The blogger shows her disgust for ill-informed and occasional fans by demonstrating their incorrect assertions. It is clear that readers of these blogs also dislike occasional fans. For example, reader Laura Marcella commented on this post:
The people who write things like that are only Olympics gymnastics fans; they follow in the Olympic year and ignore gymnastics for the next three years. Like when people erroneously tweeted the U.S. wouldn’t get gold now since Shawn retired, it’s obvious those “fans” hadn’t watched any gymnastics since August 2008, hahaha (Get a Grip Gym blog).
There are many other similar comments on this particular post and other posts that comment with disgust on the ineptitude of occasional fans. Gymnastics bloggers and readers are solidifying the hierarchy within gymnastics blogs by excluding those without the knowledge to participate in their community.
It is evident that gymnastics blogs are their own form of life where writers and readers join to discuss gymnastics, participate in social hierarchies, and exclude less dedicated fans. This online community is an active genre that unites to create a form of life online based solely on the world of women’s elite gymnastics.
This genre is indicative of many other specific and knowledge-based online communities, such as blogs for architectural engineers or English majors at Indiana University: the language is specific to the collective knowledge of the writer and reader, the writer may have more information and thus a place on top of a social hierarchy within the blog, and readers without the skillset or information to understand the blog or use it intelligibly are excluded. Thus all blogs or online communities which rely on the collective knowledge of participants can be considered a form of life joining informed speakers and hearers.
Bazerman, Charles. “Genre and Identity: Citizenship in the Age of the Internet and the Age of Global Capitalism.” Rhetoric and Ideology of Genre. 1-34. Web. 13 Oct. 2012.
Get a Grip Gym blog. Blogspot. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. <http://getagripgymblog.blogspot.com/>.
The Couch Gymnast. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. <www.thecouchgymnast.com>.
Triple Twist Gym blog. Blogspot. Web. 13 Oct. 2012. <http://www.tripletwistgymblog.blogspot.com/>.
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