Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Catching Up With The Couch Gymnast

I recently had the opportunity to interview The Couch Gymnast via email. The Couch Gymnast is an Australian PhD student who writes a fantastic blog which can be found at http://couch-gymnast.blogspot.com/. In addition to commenting on gymnastics competition throughout the world, she has run special features such as contests to name the best and worst leotards in gymnastics competition. She also regularly posts entries entitled "Cartwheels in...," giving readers an opportunity to learn about gymnastics in countries with less developed programs. Overall, the blog ranges from very intelligent discussions about serious issues to hilarious rants that are impossible not to love.

What inspired you to begin your blog?

I think that it was the discovery that blogging existed at all, and that it was something I could participate in that inspired me to start TCG. I started a blog called “A List a Day” where I wrote up various lists on everything from where I'd like to travel, to my favourite floor routines. I realised after a while I really only wanted to write about gymnastics. Beijing had just finished. I was only just (I am a late bloomer!) realising how much the internet was having an effect on a sport that is generally - except during the Olympics - under-covered by the media. I had all this information and access to my favourite sport at my fingertips.

See, I grew up in a culture where if you tell someone you are a gymnastics fan and you are not an actual gymnast, they kind of tilt their head, or cock an eyebrow and look confused. Before I really began to cotton onto the blog thing, I really had no way to discuss or share my thoughts on all the gymnastics I could now watch thanks to Youtube, and read about thanks to the many brilliant gymnastics sites because no one I know even thinks about, let alone likes gymnastics.

Why did you decide to begin a magazine as well?

I decided to start the magazine late last year. I just thought that there were so many people who would write these insanely long, amazing comments on my blog, or even write me long emails about their feelings on the sport, that I thought why not give them a place to contribute? Not everyone has the luxury of a full time research scholarship like mine that gives them time to maintain a writing project like a blog or website. Then I just started contacting some of those people to see if they wanted to contribute. Generally, people were excited and it went from there.

What are you favorite things to blog about?

I love, as you can probably guess, to look at the silly side of the sport. I love gymnastics so much, but any fan has to admit, it is a faintly ridiculous sport - the outfits, the hairdo's, the pretense at always being totally ladylike, the crazed coaches, the mind-boggling controversies, the floor choreography - all these things are fun to write about. I also like to cover gymnastics history and talk about nations that don't get talked about at all. It's hard sometimes, with language and translation issues, but I like to at least try. I also love to write about the crazy, irreverent, naughty or just plain odious personalities of the sport; the Khorkinas, the Karolyi's, the Schwikerts, the Yoculan's. They are fun too.

What are you hoping to accomplish with your blog and magazine?

I'd like sports blogs to get a bit more recognition for what they contribute to sports coverage, though, and that is what I am writing my PhD thesis about. And I always want more readers, because more readers means more people who might enter the conversations that start from what I write.

With the magazine, I just hope I keep getting people enthusiastic enough to want to write for it. With the second issue I was blown away by the fact that people were coming to me with interviews they had done with international gymnasts, but I also have such a great time talking to people who wanted to write about the fact they are just getting back into the sports, or who went to major competitions in the seventies and can remember seeing the Soviet stars.

What is something your readers would be surprised to know about you?

They might be surprised that I am an indy-music listening, arthouse film-loving, vintage clothes wearing boho arts student? I only say that because when people at this end find out I am writing about sports, and am into sports, they think it is weird because of the way I look! I am definitely no jock! In fact, I would only wear sneakers to a costume party! And track pants are for bed only!

When and how did you develop an academic interest in sports? What do you hope to do with this interest long-term?

I actually come from a creative writing/literature background, though I did a double English/media studies major as an undergraduate. I think it took me a long while to realise I could blend my interest in media studies with what I do with this blog (my teachers must have thought they taught me NOTHING!). The guiding academic principle of cultural studies is to 'interrogate the obvious” - to examine the practices of everyday life. Well, blogging is the way I use media every single day, whether to write a post or read someone else's. So, I decided to interrogate that fact.

That is when I decided to write about sports bloggers. I think they have become an important and integral part of the sports media landscape. And while so many journalists are giving us just the bare bones coverage on 'newsworthy' events in the under-represented sports we love, a lot of bloggers are covering the same stuff with depth, sincerity and with a critical eye turned toward the political issues of gender, race and economics, aspects I think we should never, ever ignore.

What do you think are the best parts of your blog and magazine? The worst?

The best part about writing the blog is firstly just the act of having somewhere to put my thoughts down, and secondly, the responses I get from people. I especially love it when I ask a question like are they pro or anti Khorkina or if I ask if they are they Nationalistic fans and people really take the time to give their responses. I love to read the range of serious, funny and crazy responses I get from these questions and I love the sense of a kind of conversation happening because of the post.

Then, of course, the worst thing would have to be those weeks when I get few or no comments and I feel discouraged. I have an analytics site, so I know that people are still reading it, and maybe just don't have much to say about what I have written. But sometimes it has happened when I have worked really hard, or had to do lots of research for a post.

With the magazine, the best part is the enthusiasm of the contributors. I also love the fun email exchanges I have had with people along the way.

The worst part? It's a heck of a lot of work. Finding photographers who will answer my emails about using their pictures is frustrating too. But I am scraping for something here, because really, I love doing it!

Anything else you want to add?

Just that I am definitely on team Khorkina! I can never understand people who could not appreciate her on some level - especially considering there are so many ways she lit up the sport. We need another force of personality like hers in this sport.


  1. This was an awesome interview! I have so much respect for The Couch Gymnast and I think this interview was a brilliant idea. Thanks for this!

  2. She should read Jason Gay in the WSJ.

  3. Bet On Sports Online is an outrageous site you don't want to miss.