These Olympics in Beijing may be remembered as the one where the the great Michael Phelps wowed the world, but there will also be a page devoted to Jonathan Horton who came out from that unexpected place and brought about a Silver Medal performance on the horizontal bar Men’s Gymnastics competition.
No one saw it coming. It was a routine he never tried before in competition. It was perfect.
Horton threw out the script, then soared and marched to the Olympic medals stand
By GIL LEBRETON
BEIJING – Somewhere out on the edge, in the land of the giants and triple-giants, swinging round and round, Jonathan Horton realized his Olympic dream Tuesday night.
Don’t ask him to explain it. He more or less concocted his silver medal-winning routine on the fly, all puns intended.
“That’s the first time I’ve ever done that routine,” Horton announced in the interview area, after he had been awarded the gymnastics silver medal in the men’s horizontal bar competition.
His spectacular routine looked more like a stuntman’s audition than a gymnastics contest. It was laced with multiple giant revolutions on the high bar, some of which were punctuated with Horton releasing the bar and then grabbing it again.
The crowd at the National Indoor Stadium on the final night of the gymnastics competition clearly loved it. The judges didn’t seem to know quite what to do with it, but they gave him a 16.175 score, anyway.
“I had to talk everybody into it,” Horton explained. “The kind of thing you do normally – and of course, I’m not normal – is you go out there and stay consistent and hit the routine that you’ve been practicing.
“But I talked to (team officials) Ron Brant and Dennis McIntyre, and everyone was like, ‘Why are you going to go up there and bomb a new routine?’ I said, ‘Because if I don’t, I’m not going to get a medal.’
“Nobody really understood me. But I finally got everyone to agree. My dad was the only one who was, like, ‘Yeah, go do it.'”
As a kid, Horton once climbed a pole in the middle of a Target store all the way to the ceiling. Once, when he was a 3-year-old toddler, he hitched a ride to the top of the garage on the motorized garage door.
He explained his high bar routine by saying, “I’ve done all of those skills millions of times.”
At some points in the routine, Horton didn’t need a spotter – he needed an EMS team.
It did look, frankly, as if he was making things up as he went along. But the performance was dazzling.
“Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, right?” Horton said. “I hit the floor and looked at (my coach) and said, ‘Can you believe that just happened?’
“Instantly, I knew that I was going to medal with that routine. I kind of wish I had stuck my landing, because I’d be the gold medalist right now.”
Horton’s medal was the only individual medal won by the U.S. men’s gymnastics team.
NO BARGAINS, ONLY SEAGULLS
To them, I must have been easy to spot.
A foreigner with an Olympic credential around my neck, armed with little or no Chinese. To the oh-so-eager afternoon crew at the Zhong Guan Cun electronics market, I may as well have had a sign on my back that read, “I’m here to let you take my money.”
The first rule of electronics shopping in Beijing, I was told, is to never shop alone. Bring somebody who knows Chinese and can level the negotiating field. Like, maybe, a Buddhist monk.
The Olympic volunteers at the hotel had given the taxi driver careful instructions on where to take me – the Haidian District, where the buildings are multi-storied malls filled with merchants ready to sell you cameras, laptops, HDTVs, you name it. If it has a plug or uses batteries, they sell it in one of the Haidian malls.
“There are many buildings,” the young volunteer had alerted me. “But you must bargain.
“After that, the only thing you must know is if they are fake.”
The first store that I went into sold Canon cameras, but apparently not accessories. For accessories, the young clerk in the black uniformed shirt informed me, I had to go down the street and up to the sixth floor of something called the Photographic Equipment and Accessory Center.
There, an eager fleet of young Chinese people in uniform black shirts saw me walk in and broke into smiles. I must have had “Olympic bonus” ritten all over me.
I told them that I wanted a Canon flash unit to replace my broken one at home. I pointed to the exact display model that I wanted.
But when the clerk returned, she handed me a flash unit that looked like the Toys-‘R’-Us version of the Canon model I wanted. The box read, “Seagull SG-100.”
“You like?” the girl asked.
No, I didn’t like. I wanted to see the price on the Canon model.
That prompted a store manager to take over. He showed me the real Canon flash unit and wrote down a price – 2,960 yuan, almost $500, more than double what the attachment would cost back in the States.
I countered with a brassy offer of 480 yuan, $80. That’s when the manager went into the back room and produced not the Canon unit, but the Yin Yen 150. That’s what the box said, at least.
“Yes, 480 yuan,” he said, pleased.
I had a feeling that the store room was filled with Yin Yen 150s and probably the entire Seagull catalog of semi-plastic camera products.
So I told the manager that I would return. Tomorrow. Maybe. Or maybe not.
He gave me his business card, all written in Chinese, and wrote in his mobile phone number.
I’m guessing that if I had wanted to buy something bigger, like a laptop or a TV, he might have taken me to dinner.
At Yin Yen restaurant, of course. Just like Pizza Hut, only different.
There are 1.3 billion people in China. Most of them, I think, were trying to catch a taxi Wednesday during the 5 p.m. rush hour.
Hailing a taxi in Beijing, as it turns out, is much like hailing a cab anywhere else. You wave your arm and, if he’s available, the cabbie pulls over. A light atop each taxi alerts you whether the cab is occupied or not.
So I waited, while on my way to the Wukesong baseball venue. And waited. And waited for nearly 30 minutes, as taxi after taxi after occupied taxi went by.
A nearby Chinese couple, obviously tired from a hard day of work, managed to spot an approaching empty cab. But when the taxi stopped, the wife turned to me, opened the door and said, in English, “Please … for you.”
I thanked the woman and her husband profusely and headed for my baseball game.
The Olympics are filled with moments like that. When people back home complain about the Olympics being too political or too commercialized, I think of all those moments.
Gil LeBreton: email@example.com