American Jordyn Wieber is gymnastics' reigning World Champion and was a favorite to take home an all-around medal during the London Olympic games — until yesterday. Even though she performed well, it wasn't enough. Fate and goofy Olympic rules intervened and Wieber was knocked from the all-around final by her underdog teammate Aly Raisman. It's a difficult reality to face for anyone, especially a 17-year-old with a fierce competitive streak who has worked her entire life in the hopes of medaling in the Olympic games. But what made Wieber's upset feel like it could reach through the screen and squash your heart like a stewed tomato was a sadistic NBC cameraman's decision to film Raisman's post-victory interview with Jordyn Wieber crying and being consoled in the background. It felt dirty. It felt terrible. But we eat this up.
Wieber's heartbreak came as a result of a rule that specifies that each country can only send two gymnasts to the individual all-around competition; because Wieber's combined score was lower than her teammates Raisman and Gabby Douglas, she was knocked out of competition for an individual medal. To further twist the knife, Wieber came away from the qualifying round with the fourth highest score in the entire field of competitors, out of all competing nations, and she's only lost two all-around competitions since 2008. But rules dictate that only the top two highest-scoring gymnasts from each team may compete. And so the presumed shoo-in, the world champion, the next Carly Patterson, was robbed! This is the biggest Olympic injustice since that French judge gave the Russian pair a gold medal over those adorable skating Canadians during the 2002 Winter Games.
On the other end of the emotional spectrum was Aly Raisman, the 18-year-old captain of the team who had quietly been flying under the radar before yesterday. According to her coaches, she turned in the performance of her life while her hilariously anxiety-exuding parents winced and emoted and elaborately pantomimed from the stands. As it became clear that Wieber's few wobbles and extra steps gave Raisman a real opportunity to leapfrog her teammate with her final floor routine, cameramen were there to capture the color draining from Wieber's face, her jaw muscles tense. And as Raisman's scores were announced, they were there to skillfully film both Raisman's ear-to-ear grin and Wieber's devastated tears as other gymnasts lined up to offer her their hugs and condolences. It was Aly Raisman's Rachel Berry moment, a perky bright-eyed all-American girl barely able to contain her glee over knocking her heavily favored teammate out of competition, talking about how she never doubted herself, she always knew she could do it. Gee, what a jerk for being happy about achieving a lifelong goal. How dare she.
The juxtaposition of Raisman's joy and Wieber's despair seemed vicious on the part of NBC, but America demands no less than the most detailed, painful picture of Olympian tears. We love a crying gymnast, and two crying gymnasts are better than one crying gymnast. When Wieber attempted to exit the Olympic arena and the unblinking eyes of the TV cameras, she appeared to be herded back by an official, steered toward the hungry media so we could witness her tears in an uninterrupted stream. America loves a crying gymnast because a crying gymnast cries because she's beaten someone, or lost to someone, another girl who is probably also crying. They're the end result of a female-female rivalry — who doesn't love a good catfight? — and the media loves to manufacture catfights even where they don't necessarily exist.
Do male Olympians get off the hook? Of course not. Any rivalry is drama, and drama makes for good television, especially if both people involved in the rivalry are perfect physical specimens. But male teammates aren't constantly pitted against each other like female teammates; when the US Men's 4X100 freestyle relay team lost in the last moment to French swimmers yesterday, NBC interviewed all four men at once, and all four of them were gracious even though it was clear that Ryan Lochte and his stupid America grill fucked up. Raisman, Douglas, and Wieber's amazing day of competition should be a great sign that the team has a great chance of winning gold tomorrow, and Raisman and Wieber both attempted to make that point in post-qualification interviews. But can we see a team when we're looking for a catfight?