LONDON — One of the hallmarks of American sports fandom is that we gravitate to the sports that we can relate to best, usually in a competitive sense. Most Americans, one imagines, have shot a basketball or caught a football at one point in their lives; just as most Americans have never strapped on skates and taken a slap shot.
Hence, television ratings.
[ Photos: Flights of fancy from Olympic trampoline ]
One assumes if they're physically able, most Americans have jumped on something with springs holding it together at some point in their lives. A couch as a child. A bed while dancing to Billy Idol (raises hand).
Perhaps even a trampoline, an apparatus that earned Olympic status in 2000, when men's and women's trampoline joined the gymnastics cycle as a medal event.
So right there is familiarity. You know what else Americans love historically in the Summer Olympics? Diving and gymnastics. Trampoline incorporates facets of both, with diving's aerial athletics in a gymnastic environment.
You know what else Americans love about our sports? Unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, sudden failure!
Like when U.S. gymnast Steven Gluckstein of Atlantic Highlands, N.J., made one false move in the second phase of Friday's prelims at the London Olympics trampoline finals and tumbled onto the mat, ending his push for a medal.
Twelve years of training, gone in 20 seconds and one awkward bounce.
"I was telling myself to go big. It's the Olympics: If you're going to go big, this is the time," he said.
[ Related: China's Dong soars to trampoline gold ]
"I was in shock and awe. When something that terrible happens to you, you can't really grasp it. It doesn't register right away."
Truth be told, there are four very good reasons why trampoline isn't big in the states, and why many fans attending the London Games didn't even know it existed.
1. It's the Tito Jackson of Olympic gymnastics, overshadowed by its brothers and completely outclassed by the women's all-around, which is the Michael Jackson (RIP) of Olympic events.
2. For a sport that has perpetual motion, intense athleticism and remarkable body control, it's kind of a snooze — performed in near silence, with only the springs of the trampoline echoing through the arena. Contrast that with something like, say, figure skating which sometimes seems like an excuse for arenas to blast dramatic music for three hours. Figure skating is tremendously popular, mind you.
My only suggestion on this front was to add something around the trampoline besides the mats to make the falls off the device all the more thrilling. Metal spikes or moat filled with piranhas would be my first suggestions; but if we have to keep this thing PG-13 (and the competitors alive), then let's go with a pool of "Double Dare"-style slime or muck. Perhaps they can even make it so a gymnast who falls off the trampoline can get a second chance if he retrieves a flag from a giant fake nose within a given time limit.
[ Video: Danell Leyva's amazing comeback ]
3. The gold medalist is a guy named Dong Dong. OK, come to think of it, there's no reason that majority of Deadspin's readership wasn't digging trampoline Friday, if only for the double entendre parade.
4. According to Gluckstein, the real issue is that trampoline hasn't been around long enough to build a following.
"It's such a young sport. We're trying to reach out to the media and the audience to let people know what an amazing sport it is," he said.
"I have no doubt that trampoline will be the new swimming or diving or gymnastics all-around."
One hopes it catches on. There are moments during the competition that are absolutely breathtaking:
Plus, in the end: These are Olympians. Some of them are American Olympians. And the Olympics are when we wave the flag and cheer on athletes we've never heard of in sports we've never watched.
Listen to Gluckstein, who ended up 16th out of 16 in the men's trampoline final:
"When I got on that trampoline, the nerves quickly changed to excitement. I don't know what it is — the stadium, the crowd, the USA on my chest, something about it was different than any competition I've competed in before in my entire life," he said.
"I've heard people talk about the Olympic Spirit. I was curious to what it felt like. I think I felt it tonight."
Who can't get into that?
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