Monday, August 18, 2008

Mr. Kite Goes To The Olympics

Mount Olympics has returned from its hiatus, although unfortunately, as she explains in the previous post, your primary host’s commitment to saving the free world means that real-time Olympics coverage will be provided by someone not quite as funny or as Olympic-a-rific. Although I can still fangirl pretty respectably, I’m more of a causal Olympics aficionado. Specifically, I’m still pretty surprised by a lot of the things that go on during this celebration of international cooperation and athleticism. The amount of prime-time coverage given to beach volleyball, for example, is pretty stunning. The ability of diving commentators to point out five or six flaws in a synchronized dive that lasted .023 seconds, takeoff to splashdown, leaves me in awe. And every now and then I discover (usually on the Canadian cable channel, which is not quite as fixated on the bikini-clad beach volleyballers as NBC), a sport which I had never realized had a place at the Olympics. Tonight, that sport was the Trampoline.

You can purchase Olympic trampolines on the Internet, as it turns out. Professional-grade trampolines come in your regular, Olympic, and Australian varieties (the difference between the last two being that the Australian one flushes the other way, probably?) although the Chinese spotters are sold separately and your mother probably wouldn’t allow any of them in the backyard.

Wikipedia cites the earliest precursors of the trampoline as a European or possibly Inuit (Spain, Alaska, whatever) form of “quasi-judicial, mob-administered punishment” in which the offending party was bounced up in the air on a blanket. Which goes to show that if you had to get on the wrong side of a mob in medieval Europe (or the Pre-Columbian Yukon, either one), it was way better to do it when the mob was buzzed on fruity cocktails and could only find the springy blankets than when they they were in more of a rock-throwing mood. It also kind of begs the question of how many current Olympic sports were once vigilante activities, and why guillotining never made the cut.

Anyway, at some point the trampoline made its way out of the igloo and into the circus, where it may or may not have been invented by an artiste named Du Trampolin for the benefit of Mr. Kite (I am not making this up, go check Wikipedia for yourself). It was prominently featured in acrobatic acts called “bouncing beds,” which were probably exactly what they sound like. I’m not sure whether the misguided Victorian sense of the erotic led these acts to be filed under “titillating” or whether they were just hilarious, but what with one thing and another it is probably safe to say that this was where we got the cautionary tale of the Five Little Monkeys.

The modern trampoline was invented (anyone else notice that we’ve now invented the trampoline at least three times? Yeah.) by a couple of Iowan gymnasts named Nissen and Griswold in 1934. And from there it was pretty much a straight hop, skip and a jump into the rings of Olympic history. Actually it wasn’t, really, although both Nissen and Griswold were competitive tumblers who today would have formed the Trampoline Lobby and gotten the IOC to approve it immediately as critical to the preservation of ancient Inuit Mob Gymnastics. Instead, they used it to train tumblers and to make loads of money entertaining small children and terrifying mothers throughout Cedar Rapids. With the advent of World War II, and I swear I am not making this up, trampolines were used in the training of US Navy pilots for the following objectives which deserve to be directly quoted, and also a picture:
  1. Reduce fear of being upside down, of falling or revolving in midair.
  2. To afford practice in relocation after body revolutions and in sensing relocation while revolving in various positions.
  3. To learn balance and body control while in the air.
  4. To develop oneness with the plane.
  5. To acquire self-confidence in the air.

Clearly, it surpasses mortal understanding why a device that can simultaneously train tumblers, cause civil suit lawyers to lurk defensively at the edge of children’s birthday parties, provide wholesome and bouncy mob punishment fun for the whole family, AND “develop oneness with the plane” was not IMMEDIATELY adopted by the Olympics as the Best Sport Ever. By 1958, at least, competitive trampolining was well-established enough to create a brouhaha over rules and time limits in the NCAA regulations. It has had a fickle relationship with traditional (i.e. not descended from the mob) gymnastics over the years, until on a joyous New Year’s Day in 1999, the International Trampoline Federation voted to merge with the International Gymnastics Federation, paving the way for trampoline sports (trampoline, tumbling, and double-mini trampoline) to be included in the 2000 Sydney Games. The eight intervening years, of course, have been enough time for the Russians to think they were totally dominant and then tank, and for 60-pound Chinese girls to get good enough to kick everyone else’s ass. In case you were wondering: in the women’s trampoline competition tonight, Wenna He of China took gold, Karen Cockburn of Canada took silver, and Ekaterina Khilko of Uzbekistan (for serious) took bronze (and BOY was she happy about it). Not that there’s a good reason NOT to be happy about being the third best in the world at jumping up and down on a giant sproingy surface that makes you feel like you’re flying.

It does not get more Olympian than that. (also the picture of the shirtless, planeless WWII Navy pilot.)
And of course,

1 comment:

Lex said...

This is brilliant. Just for their contributions to the betterment of humanity, I have a newfound love for the (sexy and emo) Victorians, the Iowans, and mob justice. Also the Air Force. Who knew??

Answer: Wikipedia.