The Olympic Gym: An Allegorical Story

by Brent T.

There was a man named Herman Koumos, who had two sons, Titus and Joshua. Herman’s mother was from Austria, but his father was of Greek heritage. Herman was born and raised in Southern California, near the coast.

When he was a young man, Herman became interested in gymnastics, and began working out in a small gymnasium. This greatly distressed the elder Koumos, who saw this as a waste of time. Nevertheless, partly to spite his father, Herman began to devote more and more time to his sport, and became quite adept at certain skills. Unfortunately, Herman was not a good student, and often argued with his coach, and refused to do certain exercises, while wanting to only concentrate on the ones he liked. To make matters worse, he also severely neglected flexibility training, which held him back even more. His skills were quite substandard, with the exception of back handsprings, which he could perform with excellence. Herman wanted to perform nothing but back handsprings for all of his routines, while basically ignoring the other aspects of the sport. He did fairly well in one early competition, mainly because his back handsprings were so superior to the other competitors, but because his competitors’ scores were more well rounded than Herman’s caused them to quickly surpass him in gymnastics. He never once placed in a meet, but did win one of his early tumbling events, mainly due to the fact that the other competitors simply weren’t able to do a handspring, while Herman was. This angered Herman, who felt that due to his superior skill at back handsprings, he should be awarded winning scores, on that count alone. He became angry with his coach, and switched gyms. Then, he became frustrated with the next, and switched again. He did this several times.

Soon, Herman was too old to compete, but he still had a thirst for the glory that comes with winning a competitive event. He soon settled on the idea of starting his own gym, where he could do things his way. He decided that the gym would not have a name, per se, but that everyone would associate the gym with Herman Koumos, due to the superior coaching and skill of the students.

Herman’s sons, Titus and Joshua, grew up learning to do gymnastics. From an early age, it was apparent that Titus had the ability to do back handsprings as well as his father. In addition, Herman had him work a little bit on flexibility, which made him slightly more well rounded and successful than his father had been. Titus’s skill, it seemed to Herman, bode well for future glory. Herman would soon show all of his old coaches and teammates who the real gymnast was.

However, Joshua had great difficulty performing any skills more than just basic rolls and cartwheels. It didn’t appear that he would be of much help to his father. Although Joshua never learned how to do a handspring, both he and his brother served as coaches, alongside their father, in his new gym.

Herman soon had the plans for his gym all figured out, so he sent his boys out, in order to bring in their friends, so he could teach them gymnastics. Soon, small groups of people were showing up at Herman’s gym every day to learn tumbling. Very quickly, they were all doing back handsprings, some with an amazing degree of skill. Herman was a master of this skill, and he knew how to teach it. Initially, it appeared that this gym was going to be a real force in the gymnastics world.

Herman inwardly realized that his lack of flexibility was a hindrance to his own competitive career, so he decided to make flexibility a centerpiece in his gymnasts training. Although he had very little experience in flexibility training himself, he read a few books on it, and found that the oriental circus groups had a method of training that produced more flexibility than any other. No one could bend their bodies the way these circus performers could, so Herman decided to adopt this practice with his gymnasts.

Due to his insatiable desire to produce winning gymnasts, in order to vicariously enjoy their victories, and bask in the glory of his own coaching acumen, Herman instituted a very strict policy at his gym. He called around to the other gyms around the country, and found that their students were spending fifteen hours per week in training. Herman doubled his student’s hours to thirty. Because this made it hard for some people, many left. But Herman and his sons, along with some of the more talented students, worked hard to bring other members into the gym, and soon, there were many very dedicated families, who essentially lived at the gym on Olympic boulevard. They all had little or no contact with other gyms, and didn’t belong to the National Association of Gymnastics Training Centers; neither did they have affiliations with any other gymnastics bodies.

One of the things that Herman really enjoyed was to go to parks, and public places, and have his students do back handsprings. Virtually all of the students were incredibly adept at this skill, and so many people were really impressed. Occasionally, they would run across someone who was thinking about learning gymnastics, and they would invite them to a beginners practice session.

“Wow, where did you learn how to do that?”

“Well, we have a great teacher. In fact, at other gyms, they don’t learn how to do this until the second year of training, and even then, the other gyms’ best students aren’t nearly as good as most of our intermediates. Would you like to learn how to do this?”

“Would I! You bet I would. What gym are you guys from?”

“Oh, were not from a gym, we’re just gymnasts, and we work out over on Olympic boulevard.”

These potential members were given one-on-one instruction, and were quickly able to execute a back handspring. Herman was also careful to inform everyone, members and potential members alike, that in all of the other gyms around the country, a person wouldn’t be able to get this kind of training. In fact, many of the other gyms just wanted to have lots of students in order to make money! Very few of them ever competed. However, Herman’s students were not only going to compete, they were going to win. Why would anyone want to be a member of one of the other gyms? Many of the students developed a sense of pride in their gym, and the expertise of their coach, as they eagerly looked forward to winning at the competition.

Over the next few months, Herman informed everyone about the upcoming International Competition, which was in four years. At every practice session, before every exercise, the students were reminded that they needed to be ready for the competition, and that if they were diligent in their practice, they would surely win. Herman wanted his gymnasts to win every medal, and the overall. This was of utmost importance to him.

About a year before the International Competition, it became apparent that Herman’s gym didn’t have enough members to win every medal, so Herman decided not to enter his students that year, but to concentrate on building up the gym for the next competition, four years in the future. Some of the students were discouraged, and dropped out. Others became too old to compete and became coaches, under Herman. In this way, Herman’s gym on Olympic boulevard not only grew, but also was able to expand, opening other franchises across the country. Every single gym followed the same practice schedule, and used the same teaching methods that Herman had learned from various sources along the way.

While constantly searching for more and better ways to do things, Herman began to read about great gymnasts of the past, and incorporated whatever seemed good to him from their biographies. He also became increasingly interested in the circus, both Oriental and Greek. In fact, even though Herman was an American and couldn’t speak a word of Greek, for some reason he became more enamored of Greek culture, especially that of circus performers. He began to fashion himself as a descendant of the rich Greek circus tradition, and as the years went on, and adopted certain of their skills and practices into his gyms. He felt that allowing only Greek circus music to be played in the gym and at home would inspire his students towards the greatness that embodied the Greek circus performers.

Always looking to the future success of his gym, Herman encouraged members who had babies (potential gymnasts all) to bend their children’s spines and hips, from birth, in the manner of the Oriental circus families. Consequently, Herman’s students were the most flexible of any gym, anywhere. The young men could bend backwards, literally in half, and the women were equally, if not more impressive.

So much emphasis was placed on the gym, and the upcoming International Competition, that the members were encouraged to decorate every room in their homes with gymnastic pictures, and sayings from famous gymnasts of the last century. Vacations were centered on the training schedule. Infants were forced to do the splits, and to hyper-extend their spines, shoulders and hips, and the students became even more adept at back handsprings then before.

Herman’s wife, who was reputed to have been quite a gymnast in her past, began to put together uniforms, with a team logo embossed, in preparation for the International Competition. As a result of reading Herman’s books about famous gymnasts, and circus performers, she chose a traditional loose fitting shirt, with pantaloons, all tied at the waist, with a dark sash. The colors were red, with gold trim. She also believed that since the students’ back handsprings were so impressive, if the tumblers could also incorporate juggling into their routines, the judges would be absolutely dumbfounded, and award Herman’s students with perfect ten’s. Certainly, no one else was juggling in his or her floor routines these days.

Herman began to teach his students what the judges were looking for in competition. “You will be judged according to a standard of perfection. Every handspring must be perfect. Nothing else matters, because the judges are looking for handsprings. As far as artistic content, we are looking for something that honors the ancient sport of gymnastics. Modern flavor is going to be looked down upon. Let me tell you, many gymnasts are going to be in for a big surprise on the day of the competition.”

In spite of the frequent injuries from the flexibility training, the competition drew near and Herman had a large group of gymnasts who were ready for the competition. Practice became even more intense and demanding, but Herman promised everyone that it would all be worth it in the end. “Imagine yourself up there, before the judges, and all of you have perfect ten’s! The judges will say, ‘We’ve never seen anything like it, you all get first place.’ Gymnasts don’t quit now! Your (and my) victory is drawing near!”  Herman’s gymnasts had invested so many years, and so many hours of painful flexibility exercise, that there was no way they were going to miss out on the reward for all their hard work and dedication.

The day of the opening ceremony arrived, and Herman’s gymnasts marched into the arena to the sound of Greek music. They wore their uniforms and marched perfectly, even doing a few flawlessly executed back handsprings. The crowd, never having seen anything like this before, was absolutely delighted. “Wow, what a team! They seem so unified. It’s obvious that this team has worked really hard. If they can do the other skills as well as their entry march, they will sweep the competition.”

When it came time to register for the events, Herman’s students had a few frightful revelations.

“Mr. Koumos, what is vault? Do we know how to vault? I don’t remember anything called vault in all the years I have been in the gym.”

“Titus, the only event we have ever heard of is tumbling. What is the horse, and what are the rings? Do we need to do these?”

Herman assured all of his students that these events were simply modern additions to the great tradition of gymnastics, which had been largely forsaken in recent years.

“Don’t worry! When the judges see your routine, they won’t tolerate these other events. That stuff isn’t really gymnastics, it’s all just a sideshow.”

The competition began, and the first thing Herman’s students noticed was the strange choice of music that all the other performers chose for their optional floor exercises. Some gym members had heard the music before, when they managed to hear the neighbors playing the radio, and were astonished that modern music was allowed in a gymnastics competition. Others watched in fascination, seeing for the first time what vaulting looked like, and what the horse and rings were about.

When it came time for floor exercises, Herman’s students performed their routines with precision. They did back handsprings furiously across the floor, while juggling five bowling pins. They wore their Greek circus costumes, performing with the sounds of a calliope and tambourine in the background. After forty handsprings, Herman’s students stopped abruptly, expertly caught their bowling pins, and then began the flexibility part of the program. The crowd was awed with the sight of dislocated shoulders and hips, and were stunned when the “gymnasts” bent more than all the way over, backwards. No one in the competition came close to being as flexible.

However, when the scores came back from the judges, Herman’s students did worse than bad. Everyone on the team got the same score, 1.25 out of a possible 10.00. The judges deliberated for a long time, trying to decide what to do, but in the end, they issued the following statement:

International gymnastic rules are clear and easily understood. They state that women compete in balance beam, floor, vault and uneven parallel bars. Men compete in floor, rings, horse, parallel bars, and high bar. Each event is judged according to the execution of various skills and overall artistic application. The performers from the Olympic Gym, under the coaching of Herman Koumos, only entered one event, tumbling and floor exercises. Each completed forty perfectly executed back handsprings. According to the rules for judging, we awarded full points for this skill. Missing from the routines were all of the other skills that are required according to the rules of international competition, so we were forced to deduct these from the overall possible score of ten. Artistic points were awarded for the Greek theme and the juggling. Should the Olympic gym choose to send competitors to the next International Competition, and wish to win, they must compete according to the rules.

We also feel compelled to issue a statement regarding what appears to be the practice of Oriental circus-like flexibility training. While flexibility is of paramount importance in the practice of gymnastics, hyper-flexibility is detrimental to the athlete’s physical health. We arrived at this statement after consulting coaches, physicians and athletes from every part of the gymnastics community. The International Gymnastics Committee is issuing a statement against Oriental circus flexibility training for gymnastics. As we have done with steroids, and all performance enhancing drugs, we must bar from International competition, any competitor that uses these flexibility techniques.”

Many of Herman’s students, coaches and their parents were instantly shocked into the realization that they didn’t have good coaching at all, under Herman Koumos. They felt an enormous sense of loss when they looked back at the years of practice, the hours of flexibility training, and the tremendous sacrifices they made in order to belong to the Olympic gym.

Some of the students retired from gymnastics. Quite a few, upon observing the beautiful routines from some of the other gymnasts, decided to join other gyms. After all, it was their love of gymnastics that got them involved with Herman Koumos in the first place, and when it became obvious that real gymnastics were being performed elsewhere, they readily moved on. It took some time for some of them to get used to the music, and the leotards worn by the “other” gymnasts, but in the end everything worked out okay. In fact, every gym that took on Herman’s ex-students got quite a bit of help with back handsprings and some aspects of flexibility, while Herman’s students had the joy of learning new things, winning a competition or two, while spending only half the hours in training as before.

However, Herman, his sons, and some of the coaches, refused to acknowledge what had just taken place. In some gyms, where the students were especially isolated from the rest of the world, the topic of what the judges said about Herman was simply ignored, or lied about. These gyms kept right up with the program, as before, telling the new students that in a few years they were going to place first at the International Competition. The coaches who remained loyal to Herman had become just like him. They didn’t care what was going on in the rest of the gymnastics world, in fact they felt that whatever it was, it was foolish. Like their master-coach, these coaches wanted their students to win more than anything else in the world. Their identity was inextricably linked to Herman and his gym. Besides, they liked Greek music, and got tremendous pleasure from seeing people bend over backwards, thirty hours per week.

2 Tim 2:5, "And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules."

Brent T.
May 1, 2003

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