Amid the Fury of the Olympics, the Zen of the Trampoline

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Amid the Fury of the Olympics, the Zen of the Trampoline

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Wherever you are, whatever time it is, it is the Olympics. The events in Rio de Janeiro feel constant and inescapable, a furious relay of competition and striving. It is as if the Olympic torch itself were a flaming baton, passed from archer to swimmer to gymnast to triathlete.

You can’t turn on a television, read a newspaper or listen in on your neighbor’s conversation in a coffee-shop line without hearing about Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky or the feud between Michael Phelps and Chad le Clos.

And then there is Logan Dooley.

Mr. Dooley, a first-time Olympian and a dimpled heartthrob in the making, may well be among those household names being showcased in prime time, buoyed by sponsorships and feel-good TV commercials, if he were a swimmer, a gymnast or even a fencer.

But Mr. Dooley, 28, of Lake Forest, Calif., is competing for the gold in Olympic trampoline.

The Olympic flame does not illuminate each event equally. Further from the center, partly in shadow, are those sports not universally acknowledged: air-pistol shooting, archery, badminton, taekwondo. We will always have the breaststroke, and long may it reign. But if I may make a modest case for my particular favorite, let me call attention to the discreet charm of the trampoline.

Though trampoline has been an Olympic event since 2000, when it debuted at the Sydney Games, it has spent the intervening 16 years so barely acknowledged that many I surveyed did not realize it was an Olympic sport at all.

This may be a regional ignorance. Despite sending athletes to compete, the United States has never won a medal in trampoline and did not have an athlete advance to the finals until 2012. The Chinese and the Russians tend to split the prizes for the men, and the Chinese and the Canadians for the women. (Dong Dong of China and Rosie MacLennan of Canada will be defending their London gold medals this year.)

But there is an underdog charm to trampoline, in part because it sounds, to the unenlightened ear, fitter for clown college than the Olympics. (Here I should confess that I am no expert, just an earthbound enthusiast.) It does have comic potential — the cartoon quaver of its never-ending bounce — but also the grace of gymnastics and diving, the two sports it essentially combines. (The word “trampoline” derives from the Spanish el trampolín, meaning “diving board.”)

Aspiring champions jump on a giant trampoline, shooting up to nearly 30 feet in the air, and are called upon to perform a series of tumbling moves (twists, pikes and somersaults) before eventually landing on their feet. They are judged on execution, difficulty and “flight time,” according to the official Olympic program. Thirty-two athletes from 17 countries, 16 men and 16 women, will compete in Rio.

The most common Olympic vector is straight ahead. Medal hopefuls must go farther, faster, up and over, in their quest for gold, sometimes to the finish, other times back and forth up and down the court. (They are chasing not only the finish line or the starting wall but also, in the televised coverage, another taunting line: that of the world, or Olympic, record.)

This single-minded pursuit is noble, admirable, even fanatic — and it is enough to bring even a spectator to tears. But it is also what I find slightly exhausting about even watching the Games.

From this, trampoline offers a respite. The trampoliner’s vector is up. Forward motion is not the goal. He or she rebounds, seeming weightless as an astronaut, going up, then down, then effortlessly up again. It is not without competition, of course, nor without difficulty, but for the duration of a routine, there is no frantic charge toward the end, no vaulting into the distance, just the dreamy, graceful suspension of time and gravity. It is as close to Zen as Olympic competition gets.

The women’s qualifiers and then finals will take place on Friday afternoon, streaming at 1 p.m. Eastern time; the men’s on Saturday, also at 1. (NBC will air the finals as part of an afternoon block beginning at 2 p.m. on both days.) In the midst of Olympic mania, they promise a quiet, lovely moment, one likely to be overlooked in the general melee.

And if consciousness raising is to be achieved only by offering up male athletes for ogling and objectification — as the United States men’s gymnasts recently proposed, according to The Wall Street JournalMr. Dooley only awaits his gasping new fan base.

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