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Artemev head shoulders and legs above

Sasha ArtemevDid you miss this spectacular moment in men’s gymnastics? It was the last round on the pommel horse. Team USA was going for silver, the Japanese were already looking dejected about being left the bronze.

The three Americans sent to cleanup were –ironically said the announcers– each of them alternate team members. And then the unthinkable happened.

Well it wasn’t unthinkable, I was thinking it. I was rooting against team USA with my blackest might, for being the ass-backward patriotic pawns the US athletes are. I was amused to see Raj trip up, and thrilled when the same thing happened to the Taiwanese-American. Yeeeee!

But next up was Sasha Artemev, whose erratic record, we were told, was what disqualified him from the original team. He failed 3/4 of the time. But the 1/4 performance ranked him as world champion on the pommel horse. So as the diminutive boy contemplated his mount, under all the pressure I’d wished upon team USA, it became impossible not to have a change of heart.

I’d barely ever watched gymnastics before, but Artemev’s performance went from dazzling to miraculous. As a teammate of his told reporters later, for a moment it looked like Artemev might have launched himself skyward from the horse, but he defied antigravity and hung on. Who has ever fought being earthbound except race cars? I doubt even Michael Jordan has to temper his air flight.

Never the less, Sasha Artemev whirled like a helicopter tugging against a leash and landed as solid as you hope every time that every gymnast could, beaming, and it was Seabiscuit, Rocky and the Little Engine That Could!

But the tension now mounted because Team USA’s score had slipped so badly that now the German team was in contention to reach the bronze. Would the Americans medal at all? Everything was up to the German pommel horse numbers.

As each German performed his routine, Artemev’s act looked all the more luminous. The German routines were executed well, but were completely earthbound by comparison. What could the poor Germans do to compete in such a fix, short of improvise Artemev’s leap to the heavens and court probably an infinitely greater than 3/4 chance of failure?

Here’s a video of an Artemev performance at an earlier gymnastic meet. In this minute and a half, you get to see what the coaches feared would happen in Beijing, then you’ll see a preview of what ultimately did.

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