BARCELONA, Spain -- You want to make fun of rhythmic gymnastics. You approach this odd sport -- where hoops, balls, clubs and ropes fly -- with a preconceived smirk.
But then you watch 18-year-old Jenifer Lovell, of Coral Gables, Fla., perform well, 10th and 13th in the first day of preliminaries, with her best events to come.
And she is smiling so big, and she says, "Being here has been my goal since I was 9 1/2 . This is what I love."
And then you watch a little girl named Tamara Levinson, from Silver Spring, Md. She is 15, looks 12. She is 5 feet 1 and 89 pounds. A relative unknown in her first international competition, she has done poorly on the first of two qualifying days. Poorly for the rest of the world -- but fine for an inexperienced little girl on such a stage.
"I tried, I really tried," she says. "I wish I could represent my country better than I did.
"I really tried!" she says, and sobs.
The girls and young women are scored on four apparatus, two they did yesterday, the rest they do today.
Lovell scored 9.025 points on clubs (picture light, narrow, miniature bowling pins) and stands 10th among 19 competitors. She scoredthe same on rope (picture the thing a fighter trains with) to stand 13th.
Lovell has her best two events today, ball and hoop. The ball is plastic and light, slightly smaller than a bowling ball. The hoop is only slightly smaller than the thing that swiveled on hips back in the '60s.
Lovell said she was nervous but didn't perform like it.
Tamara Levinson said she was nervous and did.
She dropped her shiny black ball twice, including the toss that ended her 8.20 routine. With the two small clubs she tried nothing fancy, stepped out of bounds once and scored 8.25.
Both were the lowest scores of any competitor all day.
But dry your eyes, Tamara. You really tried, which is all anyone could ask.