Admittedly, I rarely pay attention to gymnastics aside from the years of the Olympics, but this book caught my attention. I had it sitting on my TBR pile for too long as once I finally picked it up, I enjoyed it. Here is my review of "Degrees of Difficulty"
of Difficulty: How Women’s Gymnastics Rose to Prominence and Fell From Grace” by Georgia Cervin
4 of 5 stars (Very Good)
Unless one is a student of the history of the sport of gymnastics, there is probably little chance that person has watched the sport outside of the Olympics. That would be a shame for the sport has quite an interesting history and touches many of the social issue challenges that are being addressed today. This book by Georgia Cervin covers many of these topics as well as some political history as well.
From the Cold War in the 1970s up to the sexual assault cases of Larry Nassar and others, Cervin doesn’t leave any issue relevant to gymnastics untouched. She does a good job of tying in the sport’s issues to the larger picture of the day. This is the case whether it was gymnastics being used as a means of diplomacy during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union or whether attempts at making the sport more diverse are successful. On the latter, Cervin highlights the accomplishments of gymnasts of color such as Dominique Dawes and Simone Biles.
This is a scholarly work and reads as such, with each chapter organized by an introduction, body and conclusion. There are not a lot of personal biographies, but in addition to the aforementioned athletes, Cervin portrays other well known gymnasts such as Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci. The latter two are especially prominent in Cervin’s discussion about how the sport changed in its scope from artistic ability and the femininity of the gymnasts. This parallels the expanding role women were playing in all areas of society.
There are also chapters that are strictly about the sport and not with any comparison to social or political issues. The scandals involving scoring and the “disappearance” of the perfect score of 10 are topics in which Cervin discusses with just as much knowledge and depth as she does the social and political topics.
This book is well worth the time and effort to read. If one is not well versed in gymnastics, it might take a little more time for the reader to fully understand the topics, but that reader will learn a lot about the interesting history of this sport.
I wish to thank University of Illinois for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.