LONDON -- To the list of legendary athletes who have won Olympic gold medals under great pressure — names such as Jesse Owens, Babe Ruth and Charles Lindbergh — we can now add another name, a name that will stand as a symbol of a person who, when the chips were down, the irons were in the fire, the backs were against the wall, the wolves were at the door, push had come to shove and there was no tomorrow, stepped up to the plate and gave 110 percent, sucking it up, reaching deep down inside, seizing the baton of effort and banging it upon the gong of competition with a ringing sound that will echo down the hallowed halls of sporting history and into the trophy case of athletic immortality.
That name is Dong Dong.
Until these Olympic Games, few people had ever heard of Dong Dong, outside of roughly 1.3 billion Chinese. Because Dong Dong — or, as he is known in China, where the surname comes first, “Dong Dong” — competes in the trampoline, which a lot of people didn’t even realize was an Olympic sport. There are quite a few sports like that here. For example, did you know that there is an Olympic event called “Women’s Laser Radial?” Well there is. It is also known as (really) “Women’s Singlehanded Dinghy.” I don’t know what goes on in that event, and I frankly don’t want to know.
But getting back to Dong Dong: He was one of 16 competitors in the Olympic men’s trampoline event, which was easily the most impressive international trampoline competition I personally have ever witnessed. You would not believe how high these men bounce.
Q. How high do they bounce?
A. While they’re up there, they take a tea interval.
But seriously, they bounce spectacularly high, and while they’re in mid-air they perform complex gymnastic maneuvers. If a normal person — me, for example — were to bounce to that altitude, the most I would be able to accomplish, maneuver-wise, would be go, quote, “AIEEEEE,” and perhaps commence the process of soiling my undergarments. But the Olympic trampoliners calmly execute all kinds of twists and flips and turns up there, and when they come down they immediately bounce way back up and do still more.
And nobody bounces higher, or flips around more, than Dong Dong. Going into the final round of the Olympic competition, with the gold medal on the line, he had performed brilliantly. He stood firmly atop the standings; the question was, could he keep it up?
Dong Dong was the last to bounce. As he waited his turn, he appeared calm, almost relaxed. There was no way to know what he was thinking. Something in Chinese, would be my guess.
And then it was time. “Representing the People’s Republic of China,” said the P.A. announcer, “Dong Dong!”
The crowd applauded, then fell silent as Dong Dong began his routine. You could hear a pin drop, if they allowed pins in the Olympic arenas, which for security reasons they do not. Higher and higher went Dong Dong, so high that you almost thought he should wear protection, thrusting upward again and again, as if he were going to go through the very roof and penetrate deep into the annals of trampoline history, which would be a mandatory two-tenths of a point deduction.
Then, suddenly, Dong Dong finished. The entire arena roared, then went limp. Many people would have lit cigarettes, if smoking were legal at the Olympics. We waited for the judges’ scores … Waiting … Waiting …
And there it was: Dong Dong done done it! A mighty cheer went up. Dong Dong hugged everybody, and everybody hugged Dong Dong. I even felt like hugging somebody, but I was sitting in the media section, where hugging is frowned upon because we’ve all been wearing the same clothes for nine consecutive days and smell like credential-wearing dumpsters. Still, walking out of the arena, I felt pretty good.
Maybe I need to check out Women’s Singlehanded Dinghy.