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Olympic gymnasts take a victory lap in Charlotte

By Théoden Janes

Anyone who walked into Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday night expecting to see a spectacle on the level of Cirque du Soleil was probably disappointed by the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions.

Anyone who was hoping for intensity and excitement to match that of watching the Summer Olympics in London surely was a little let down.

Those are two very, very big things to live up to.

But if you took it for what it was – a victory lap for gold medalists Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber, and a farewell tour for retired gymnastics superstar Nastia Liukin – you could walk away satisfied. And if you brought kids, it’s a good bet they were inspired.

The two-hour show (including intermission) portrays the sport of gymnastics in the best possible light. It showcases the skill, strength and athleticism of its most impressive athletes, and brightens everything up with colorful strobe lights, lasers, a pop music soundtrack and an array of sparkling costumes.

Instead of three rings, this Olympic circus puts several sets of bars (parallel, uneven, high) on one side of the arena floor, a double trampoline and four beams on the other, a floor in the center, and four sets of rings hanging from the ceiling.

There’s no doubt a certain Canadian entertainment company inspired some of this. (Liukin even said, in an interview earlier in the week, that the show “includes some Cirque du Soleil-type stuff.”)

That’s good and bad. The good: Liukin’s work with straps and silks, which lifted her high above the floor and provided the show with its most memorable and graceful moments. The bad: More than one overly-long, under-funny bit involving head clown/emcee John Macready, including a running joke where he pretended to be a baby.

The cast of 24 gymnasts and dancers (12 men, 12 women) is uniformly talented. The rhythmic gymnasts – including Julie Zetlin and Mary Sanders – do beautiful work. The guys made the women go wild both by pulling off stunts on the parallel bars – and by pulling off their shirts.

And the crowd really came alive for Douglas, Raisman, and Wieber, each of whom did captivating individual floor routines.

Still, Charlotte was the 26th stop on the 40-city Kellogg’s Tour that started in early September, and it’s a good bet the cast is wearing down – mentally and physically. And there’s proof this is no cakewalk: McKayla Maroney suffered a tibia fracture during the tour’s second show back in September, had surgery, and only appeared briefly Friday night; 2012 Olympian John Orozco tore his left ACL and meniscus during a show earlier in the month.

It’d be easier to complain if these were seasoned, overpaid tour professionals. But really, most of them are just kids. Kids who have spent their lives training, not entertaining.

My inclination is to cut them a break, give them a hand and count myself lucky that for one night in October, I got to see a bunch of Olympians do things that only Olympians can do.

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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