BOSTON — There are a lot of things you might miss when you watch a sport on television instead of viewing it live. In sports like figure skating, it might be difficult to really get how fast the skaters are zipping around the rink. Ditto for the speed at which NBA players move on the court when you watch a game in person. (I’ve heard about the camera adding 10 pounds but I never heard about it subtracting 10 mph.) Football is louder and gruntier and somehow even more violent live.
There’s some of that in gymnastics, too, but one bit that someone viewing at home might miss is just how much chalk there is on the mats, on the floor, on the leotards, and seemingly everywhere else. And at times, it can feel like the chalk has aerosolized, little particles floating through the air, like a plague of airborne particulate. At this year’s national championships, in Boston, the chalk has been flying everywhere at a level that’s startled this veteran observer.
I’ve been covering gymnastics competitions for over five years and yesterday’s men’s competition was the worst I’d ever seen, chalk-wise. (There were a lot of falls last night, too, but that’s another matter.) Chalk coated my computer. It got in my mouth. I’m pretty sure I ate a bit with my dinner. I was constantly brushing white particles off my black shirt. It looked like I had a bad case of dandruff.
I was not alone in this. Throughout the six rotations last night, the journalist sitting next to me kept wiping down his screen and keyboard.
“There was one point during Thursday’s junior men’s competition where I felt like I was living in a snow globe,” Kat Cornetta, a freelance journalist who is covering the event, wrote in a Twitter DM. “I expected Santa Claus and a small cottage with a chimney to pop up next to me. I don’t think I realized the sheer amount of chalk, though, until I opened my computer at home Friday morning to answer emails and had to brush off enough chalk from my keyboard that it made one of my cats sneeze.”
Another fun thing you will notice, provided you can see it through the clouds of white, are all the containers of honey near the chalk tray. Many gymnasts apply honey to the bars in order to make it stickier and easier to maintain their grip. The mixture of honey, water, and chalk sounds like a very bad face mask. It makes for a very strange visual, as well.
And not just any honey will do. According to this tweet, at the European Championships, event staff discarded Marcel Nguyen’s honey that he brought with him from Germany. “We had to go through the bin and find it for him,” the tweeter said. This is a lot to ask of anyone, especially for a jar of German honey, but given that honey doesn’t aerosolize I would’ve volunteered to do it myself if it meant less chalk assault.
I don’t know if things will improve this evening when I go to watch the women, although they only have one chalk heavy event—uneven bars—to the men’s two. Perhaps less magnesium will be in the air tonight. Just to be on the safe side, I won’t be wearing a black shirt again.