BARCELONA, Spain — Now the flashbulbs were snapping like crazy. He had to laugh at that. Last summer, someone shot a flash as he ran toward the vault, right in his eyes, and, blinded, he missed the vault completely and landed on his head. He was knocked unconscious. The medics had to help him out.
You could have seen that on every blooper show from here to Albuquerque. It was the most famous thing Trent Dimas had ever done.
Until Sunday night.
You wait for greatness. You wait for heroes. And you wait for the perfect Olympic moment. So here was Dimas, a 21-year- old gymnast with a full flashing smile and dark, wavy hair that had Spanish girls cooing when he walked past, and here he was, just sitting around, no one paying attention. He was like an extra in a “Batman” movie. The setting was big, but who was he? Just another American gymnast.
And American gymnasts — especially the men — had done a pretty big belly flop at these Games.
So he waited. He stood up. He sat down. He had qualified for only one event in the apparatus finals, and wouldn’t you know it? It was the last one. The high bar. Dimas had come to the arena at 5 p.m. and now it was almost midnight, and he still hadn’t gone.
“Guy could have gone out for a hamburger and had time to digest it,” someone joked.
Trent Dimas was the last American on the last event on the last night of gymnastics. All across Barcelona, there seemed to be more important things to see. Jackie Joyner-Kersee was winning her heptathlon gold medal at Estadi Olimpic. The U.S. boxers were grumbling over a rob job out in Badalona. The Dream Team was busy slicing up the Spaniards in front of the hometown crowd. Gymnastics? Who needed it? If there were a handful of U.S. reporters there, it was a lot.
Now it was after midnight. The escalators had stopped their climb up Montjuic. People were hailing cabs outside. The arena was half-empty. A group of Americans stuck around, waving a flag.
Dimas ran through his routine in his mind, the back flips, the release moves. Finally, the last American gymnast in the last event on the last night heard his name called over the loudspeakers.
“TRENT DIMAS, USA.”
And somewhere, the sky began to open.
“I can’t believe it!” he kept saying over and over, when it was done, when he had pulled off the impossible and won a gold medal, the first American gymnastics gold in a non-boycotted Games since 1932. “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe it!”
He hugged his coach, Ed Burch, who has been with him since he was kid. He grabbed his head in disbelief. He looked to the stands. He hugged his coach again. “Numb!” he said. “I am totally numb!”
What had he done, this New Mexico kid who skipped college to concentrate on the Olympics? Just the most mesmerizing high-bar routine of the Games, complete with three release moves, including one where he lets go, does a back flip and somehow finds the bar between his legs. Don’t ask me how. He owned that bar. His body was wooden when he needed it straight, and a rubber pretzel when he needed it bent. He swung with such force, it seemed he would lift off into space. He scissor- kicked. He slid through his own arms.
And when he finally let go for good, he tumbled backward twice in mid-air and landed smack in the middle of history. The place erupted, like an opera house when the diva hits her last magnificent note.
“It all came together when I needed it,” Dimas gushed. “After I stuck my dismount, I was afraid to move. I wanted the judges to see how I stuck it.”
They saw. They were impressed. They gave him a 9.875, the winning mark. An American? Yes. Although the night belonged to another star from another country — the Unified Team’s Vitaly Scherbo set a record for gold medals, winning the rings, pommel horse, vault and parallel bars — this one thing, this last event on the last night of gymnastics, could not be taken away.
Call it a parting snapshot.
From blooper to super
These Games, so far, have been a disappointment to some U.S. fans. They say we’re lacking Olympic heroes. They sigh because there are no feel-good faces to take into the night, no Mary Lou Rettons or Greg Louganises as there were in Olympics past.
Here is a feel-good face, America. Take a look at the kid who barely made this team, the kid who was blooper material last summer, who wasn’t supposed to have a chance against the former Soviets and the Chinese.
Take a look at that smile, that wavy hair — the whole package looks like a cross between gymnast Mitch Gaylord and actor Vincent Spano — and then look a little deeper. Look at the eyes moistening on the victory stand. Look at the lungful of air he exhales. Look at those lips singing along.
“And the rocket’s red glare. . . .”
That’s the Olympics you’re seeing there, folks. Last American on the last event on the last night of his competition. They were flashing the bulbs now, taking his picture and capturing the moment. But this time, under all that hot light, he didn’t fall, he didn’t blooper and land on his head. He was standing there, like destiny, and he didn’t even blink.