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Mixture of brawn, beauty a little overwhelming

Sunday, February 11, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:14 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

When Smucker’s introduced Goober in 1968, it combined two favorites into one jar: peanut butter and jelly. For one low price, you could save yourself the unbearable hassle of walking all the way from the pantry for the P.B. to the fridge for the J.

On Friday, the MU athletic department tried a similar combination, and the results, like Goober, were strange, slightly sloppy but still satisfying.

Beauty and the Beast paired gymnastics and wrestling — two less-popular college sports — and had them competing on the floor of Hearnes Center at the same time.

From a marketing standpoint it was a wise move. If just one gymnastics fan returns to a wrestling match (or vice versa) because of this unlikely pairing, the scheme was a success.

But the execution was a little bizarre.

First, the introduction of the teams seemed a little trite and corny. Each MU gymnast emerged from a luminous cloud of fog attached to the sinewy arm of her MU wrestler escort. All that was missing were corsages and boutonnieres, and fans were left wondering which gymnast-wrestler pair would be crowned king and queen of the dance. By the way, my money is on Ben Askren and Adrianne Perry.

After that cheesy entrance, the teams parted ways and began their separate competitions.

When it started, fans couldn’t decide where to look. It was like watching the big dance number in a musical, like, say, “Be Our Guest” in Beauty and the Beast.

You were drawn to whatever caught your eye, but you could never see it all. A cheer would erupt from the east end of the gym, but you would inevitably be looking at the west end and miss the excitement.

After a while, it was like watching a movie with subtitles. Similarly, it was important to train yourself to see both sports.

I concocted a successful strategy after a dozen or so minutes of chaotic frustration. For me, it was a matter of simply being aware of the battle on the wrestling mat.

The wrestling was a constant presence, but the gymnastics events occurred sporadically. So I would concentrate mainly on the gymnasts but detect the wrestling the way you notice changes in the bass line of a rock song.

Besides, it’s probably a guy thing, but I’ll take leotards over singlets any day. Perhaps it was the sparkles that grabbed my gaze.

The wrestlers must have noticed the sparkles, too. A few of the Northern Iowa wrestlers fired idle glances at the gymnasts. It didn’t help that the vaulters started their runs right behind the Panthers’ bench.

Other than that, most of the athletes were in their own worlds — oblivious to the action around them.

Even after the Missouri gymnasts finished one event and the clouds of chalk dust dissipated, not even one glitter-encrusted eye glanced toward the black wrestling mat at the east end of the arena.

For the athletes, it must have seemed like playing pickup basketball in a crowded gymnasium. You’re resolved to the fact that there are eight people playing a half-court game on the other side of your court, and you hardly notice them during your game. But you’d still prefer it if they were gone so you could enjoy some full-court goodness.

The arena announcers didn’t help either. When they announced the winner of a wrestling match when they were supposed to be introducing a gymnast, it threw the whole system out of whack. At times, the announcers even talked right over delicate balance beam routines and precisely-timed vault runs.

Luckily, the Missouri wrestlers were considerate enough to time all three falls during warm-up periods between gymnastics events, because it’s possible the loud roar after each pin would have generated a lapse in concentration by the gymnasts.

All told, it was an enjoyable evening for me, since I’ve never seen either sport in person. Perhaps that was the draw for several others who had been procrastinating in their desire to see both teams. Two birds, one stone.

But I couldn’t help thinking of other ways this evening could have been spiced up.

For instance, it would have been more remarkable if the gymnasts wrestled each other or if Askren and the other wrestlers attempted flips and pirouettes on the 4-inch-wide balance beam.

When the night ended and the gymnasts received their final scores, I checked my watch and realized I had seen two sports in just over an hour and a half.

It made me wonder why other sports don’t do this, too.

Missouri set an attendance high for each sport, so other sports might receive a boost if they paired up.

Swimming and water polo, for instance, would also combine grace and grit, as would figure skating and boxing. Oh wait, that’s called hockey.

What about football and track? Just imagine MU wide receiver Will Franklin catching a touchdown, catching his breath, and then catching a baton in a 400-meter relay on a track circling the field. It would be a fan favorite for sure.

But for now, I hope MU makes this a yearly tradition, as it indicates it will by calling this the “first annual.”

Wrestling fans didn’t come to watch gymnastics, and gymnastics fans didn’t come to watch wrestling, but the combination made 6,197 fans pretty happy.


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