There are some athletic competitions which just inherently make sense to me. I like knowing, for example, who is the gold medal winner of the 100m sprint (this year, it's Usain Bolt) because that's a skill I understand: he's the fastest human on Earth. If we line up every person in the world and have a race, Bolt wins. The same concept applies to the World's Strongest Man (Mariusz Pudzianowski) because he's, well, the world's strongest man, and to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world (there are five regulating bodies in boxing, which currently have split their champion awards to three different dudes) because he could win a fight with anyone in the world.
But I don't know how to think of gymnastics. It's a skill-set which is so far from being functional in any way that I have a hard time contextualizing it.
Luckily, the FreeDarko guys have been thinking and talking about the same thing (sorta), and since they're way smarter than I am, you should go read what they have to say.
Here, though, is the money quote:
The difference for me is that gymnastics requires such specialized training that the indirectness of usefulness that you talk about here confuses the hell out of me. The idea that someone would train to do leg spins (for the love of Strugg, I hope there's a technical term for these) around a block with hand-holds for a good minute or so, and then pin the outcome of all that training on arbitrary judging that's accepted as corrupt makes no sense to me.
The obvious response to this is that the NBA has arbitrary rules and some corruption in its ranks (donaghy lolz!), so maybe we just accept that ridiculousness because the athletes get paid a lot and enough people watch the games to make it less of an outsider activity. But, really, I think the particulars of a sport like basketball (or baseball, or most of all football) are so ridiculously defined (seriously, I had to explain an onside kick to British people at a Niners game last year and they just laughed at me) that they actually seem more acceptable to us as viewers. So many arbitrary things happen in a basketball play with regards to players respecting and disrespecting rules, aiming for the goals defined by the rules, etc that we can only make sense of it by submitting fully to its skewed logic.
There's a huge difference in something like gymnastics -- at least for a relatively ignorant fan like me -- in that the movements seem more like bizarre revelations of ability rather than a submission to another plane of logic. Like, when I watch the best basketball players, I think "they're good at basketball" -- when I watch the best gymnasts, I think "these dudes are rocks -- why are they jumping on mats and not working as freelance ninjas?" Basically, I think gymnastics rests in this uncanny valley on the graph of sports ridiculousness right between "so basic that it works" (e.g. track and field) and "so complicated that it works."