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Horton redefines victory


Judith Murphy September 4th, 2008

The official motto for the Olympic Games is "Citius, Altius, Fortius" " Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger." After watching University of Oklahoma gymnast Jonathan Horton compete in the men's horizon...

The official motto for the Olympic Games is "Citius, Altius, Fortius" " Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger." After watching University of Oklahoma gymnast Jonathan Horton compete in the men's horizontal bar competition during the Beijing games, I think it's time to add Horton's motto to all the official paraphernalia:  "Go big or go home."

Horton went big, and he didn't go home until he'd won a silver medal in the individual event, along with a bronze for the team competition.

Unless you've just emerged from a coma or otherwise have avoided all possible news reports, you probably already know the story. Just days before the horizontal bar event, Horton decided that his regular bar routine " the one he'd been practicing for months " did not have a sufficient degree of difficulty to permit him to finish in medal position, even if done perfectly.

He and OU men's gymnastics coach Mark Williams started revising and adding more difficult release moves, including a full-twisting layout double back flip over the bar, known as a Cassina, followed immediately by other gravity-defying feats named for great gymnasts who perfected the seemingly impossible. The new routine was so taxing that Horton practiced only half of it at a time. He put the halves together for the first time in the competition itself.

One "doesn't" change one's routine right before the event. One just doesn't. Horton knew that and did it anyway. 

The start value of the new routine went up from a 6.4 to a 6.9. That important number was then combined with the judges' score for performance. Horton's execution was nearly flawless, with the single exception of a small sidestep when he landed his dismount. His score, 16.175, was heartbreakingly close to the 16.2 score of the gold medalist, China's Kai Zou. Even in a Chinese stadium, the crowd booed because they didn't think the American's score was high enough. Horton smiled.

He had done the "doesn't" and he did it with style. In the process, he commanded attention away from some of the gold medal winners. He may have helped redefine the definition of "winner." 

Many Americans and Oklahomans, have seen hundreds of phenomenal athletes in a wide range of sports and cheered for national championships over the decades. As a result, some fans anticipate, expect, and refuse to be happy with anything less than the right to brag, "We're No. 1."

Sometimes, however, the absolute top spot is not meant to be. In that case, succeeding at the impossible is winning, too. That's what Horton achieved, when he decided to "go big or go home." 

Devising that new, harder routine provided a myriad of opportunities for things to go wrong, particularly without what conventional wisdom would have decreed as the "necessary" untold hours of practice. Undoubtedly, Horton and his coach considered all that " and put those thoughts aside. The more difficult road offered the only visible path to the awards ceremony. All it took was nerve, focus, determination and an amazing amount of ability. Maybe, just maybe, a touch of luck came in handy, too.

Murphy is a freelance writer living in Norman.

 
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