The Great Leap Upward

Appropriately, Zhu Jianhua of China was born in the Year of the Rabbit, for no man has jumped higher than he and only a very few are as skittish
Appropriately, Zhu Jianhua of China was born in the Year of the Rabbit, for no man has jumped higher than he and only a very few are as skittish
July 17, 1984

Once there was a country very much like an introverted child. It locked its door and made the world call to it through the crack near the floor. It let nothing out and no one in. Anything strange was suspicious, anything from outside was borne on a cold, threatening breeze.

The country didn't want to compete or achieve, it wanted only to be left alone. But its people kept multiplying until one of every four human beings was living behind its barred doors, and it began to suffocate from breathing its own stale air over and over. The Sick Man of Asia, outsiders nicknamed this introverted nation. Finally, it had to change. It still feared the cold breeze, but it needed the ideas and resources that rode on that breeze in order to survive.

The country couldn't fling open the door all at once, of course. It opened it just a crack, let the breeze in by breaths. It needed a few select emissaries to send out to make friends and to subtly convince strangers of the country's might.

Sports seemed a logical bridge: The surest way to thaw a stranger was to sweat with him. So it sent out athletes, including a 19-year-old tennis player, and she never came home. The country was hurt and angry. It would have to be more careful whom it selected and how it prepared them.

And then the country found a young man who seemed the very personification of itself. He was so frail he seemed underfed, so withdrawn he didn't like to leave his room—and so charged with unrealized potential that the outside world could only gaze at him and ask the same sort of questions it asked about his country: What might he do with a few years' experience? What might he accomplish with some know-how and training?

At barely 20, Zhu Jianhua of China became the world's highest high jumper (7'9¼"), in Peking late in the spring of 1983. Two months later he ventured outside and was traumatized. He folded in the Helsinki world championships, finishing third at 7'6". Back home, the national press, the voice of the government, scolded him, and the people in the streets said he had failed. Already he was experiencing the sharpest edge of the outside breeze, the same one all of his awakening countrymen would soon begin to know: expectation.

Zhu returned to his hometown, Shanghai, and rebroke his world record (7'9¾") last September, but many of the outsiders still scoffed. He quieted them on June 10 of this year by jumping 7'10" to again break the record. Now he was about to lead a 200-athlete delegation into China's first Summer Olympics in 32 years. The country's previous appearances at the Games had been disastrous. The 1948 team had been stranded penniless in London until Chinese living abroad paid its way home. The '52 team had arrived in Helsinki too late to compete. The People's Republic of China had withdrawn from the Olympic movement in '56, when the International Olympic Committee had refused to expel the Republic of China (Taiwan). It hadn't rejoined the movement until the IOC had forced the Taiwanese to stop using the Nationalist anthem and flag in '79. Then China had boycotted the Games in '80 because of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.

No one from the People's Republic had ever won an Olympic medal. This time, they would venture to Los Angeles armed with hours of political schooling on the decadent ways of the West, with booklets warning them what to expect and with a chorus of official claims that they weren't expected to contend with the world powers for another 20 years, that Friendship and Mutual Understanding still outranked medals.

But the world's highest high jumper knew he must bring back something more tangible. The introverted boy knew the real reason for opening the door to the introverted country was to bring in gold.

Early on a morning last April he stands on the edge of the track in Nike sneakers, blue sweat pants, red shirt and gray pullover sweater, awaiting the start of his first major press conference. His shoulders slouch, his neck curves and his chest folds in; his spinal column seems to be trying to reel him in. His right hand keeps moving up to touch his hair. His eyes shift from the photographers to the reporters like a rabbit's darting from the hounds to the guns.

"That's one of the top athletes in the world?" asks a foreign journalist.

The crowd of Chinese, Japanese, Philippine, Canadian and American media representatives is then led into a branch facility of the Shanghai Sports Institute where Zhu Jianhua (pronounced JOO jian-hwa) works out five or six days a week after 3½ hours of morning college classes elsewhere in the same complex. He's a second-year student, majoring in sports physiology. Inside the institute there's a damp dirt track, walls that once were white, rusting barbells, a couple of mangy nets for children playing volleyball and badminton, and light leaking through windows that are either dirty or broken. It's probably the best sports facility in one of the world's most populous cities.

The reporters climb a stairway into a small room and sit at a long table with the 6'4" Zhu, who has preceded them into the room, and his coach. It's a rare opportunity for the Chinese reporters to quiz Zhu, but they remain mute as the outsiders fire away. An official sits in the corner, jotting it all down. Zhu finds a newspaper on the table to disappear into—looking up like a curious child at each camera click to see what made the sound—and lets his 59-year-old coach, Hu Hongfei, intercept the questions. A Canadian newsman complains, demanding that Zhu respond. And so he does.

What kind of psychological preparation is he making for the Olympics?

"It's hard to say."

Why?

"It's a secret."

What kind of music does he listen to on his Walkman before competition?

"Light music."

But what kind?

"Chinese music."

Why does he high-jump?

"For the glory of the country."

How much does he make a month?

"I get a scholarship of 60 yuan [$30] a month."

What does he think of Hu Na, the young tennis star who defected two years ago to the U.S.?

"She is a traitor to the country."

A signal flashes from a member of the Shanghai Sports Federation propaganda office to the interpreter. "That's enough," declares the interpreter. "Fifteen more minutes," demands an outsider.

The Chinese seethe at the outsider's insistence and at the political turn the interview has taken. "These people have to realize that they are the guests and we are the hosts," says one later.

The interview disintegrates and Zhu goes down a set of stains to begin his workout on the indoor track; he shoots a nervous glance at the press horde watching him from the infield. Won't he high-jump today, someone asks. No, says Hu. Could he at least jog outside for photographic purposes? Hu confers with Zhu. Patting his hair compulsively, he darts outside and runs three quick 50-meter sprints and ducks back inside.

Everyone from the West is left outside wondering the same thing: How can this skinny skittish kid stare down the world in Los Angeles?

"We're prepared to have him not bothered by the press much at the Olympics," says Hu. He wanders off to locate Zhu.

"Who knows how high the bar really had been set when he jumped for that world record?" says one of the foreign reporters. "I think this guy Zhu is a fraud."

So much for Friendship and Mutual Understanding, Part I.

Two days later, the scene at Zhu's second and last public pre-Olympic workout in China would shiver Mao Tse-tung's chemically preserved body.

He enters the gates to the sports complex toting a bright red bag bearing the words Coca-Cola—of course, Coke now has a plant in Shanghai. A crowd of Chinese and little American girls—daughters of men based here by recently opened businesses—surrounds him, clamoring for autographs. He signs one, squirming at the attention, then accelerates and leaves them all behind.

A few minutes later the show begins with a crowd of photographers, athletes and passersby watching quietly. Zhu paws at the dirt of the high-jump approach wearing shoes that clearly aren't Nike, and the representative from Nike, which has an exclusive contract with the Chinese national track team, paws at the dirt, wearing expressions that clearly aren't joy.

Zhu jogs toward the bar, then sharply accelerates for the last seven strides to the peak of his 11.0 100-meter speed—velocity that explains much of his success—plants his foot at a point toward the right end of the bar and leaves the ground at such a slight angle to the bar that his trajectory takes him almost along its remaining length. In effect, he's making a very high long jump on his back. His flight path describes a flatter, longer parabola than that of other jumpers, whose final approach to the bar is at a more acute angle. Tom Tellez, a top American track coach who's mentor to high jumper Dwight Stones, triple jumper Willie Banks and long jumper-sprinter Carl Lewis, has visited China and watched Zhu jump. "It's pretty typical of the way many young athletes, beginners, jump," Tellez says. "They don't want to get too far away from the bar. He takes off at a point more parallel to the bar and closer to the bar, at the higher heights. It leaves very little room for error, and timing becomes critical."

Nevertheless, as the cameras click on this sunny afternoon, Zhu clears 5'4" to the ecstatic applause of the little American girls.

He and Hu nudge up the bar a few inches with each successful jump. When it gets to about 6'8", Zhu sails over it, and so deep into the left corner of the pit that his leg crashes against the metal frame supporting the pit cushions. He bounces up grimacing and limps away.

"He jumped too far—maybe he is too excited because of all the journalists," shrugs Hu, a stocky man in a blue Nike jacket, with gray hair springing from his head in a subdued Don King style and a quick, likable laugh. He tries a small joke: "No worry, it's a new method of training."

Ten minutes later, the reporters spot Zhu inside and corner him. How is his injury?

"Not serious."

Does he envy the way athletes in the West live after they've broken world records?

"No, I do not admire all these rich athletes. People have different tastes and different goals."

Who is his hero?

"Carl Lewis."

How does he feel about Hu Na?

He begins to respond, but during the translation of the question the propaganda official darts out of the horde to fetch Hu and bring him to the rescue.

"All further questions will be answered by me," announces Hu, entering the circle as Zhu breaks free. Thus ends Friendship and Mutual Understanding, Part II.

Dwight Stones doesn't understand. "He's the fastest high jumper I've ever seen," Stones says of Zhu, "and he jumps with total abandon within his technique, which you need."

But...

"His best [weightlifting] squat is ridiculous. I think the guy is set up for a major injury. He has incredibly bad posture, the way his upper vertebrae curve and his head sticks out. The more he lands on his neck, the more chance he has of having vertebrae problems, which can cause compensatory problems in the lower back. If I were them, I'd work on the way he holds himself immediately.

"The Chinese have made a big mistake in not getting him more international competition. You could see how his inexperience affected him at Helsinki. He didn't manage his energy correctly—he was clearing by way too much at the lower heights. What will he do in the Olympic high jump, which could last for five hours?"

Zhu: "Dwight Stones does not know Chinese athletes." Zhu backed up that comment late this spring when he did his 7'10". And this time he really silenced his critics by setting the record outside China, at a meet in Eberstadt, West Germany. Moreover it was against top-flight competition, including former world-record holder Dietmar Moegenburg, who was second at the European-record height of 7'8¾".

Can any outsider know a Chinese athlete? Western coaches are being permitted into the country in extremely limited numbers, on short-term contracts. Huang Jian, the national track coach, has only one Westerner helping him prepare for the Olympics, a British sprint coach named Dennis Whitby, who's on a six-month contract arranged by Nike.

"If we ask foreign coaches to come over, there will be problems," says Huang. "They come here, live in hotels and they leave, and they don't care or know about how our athletes feel and think."

A distrust of outsiders, a traditional pride that places China at the center of the earth and a fear that the political winds still might change and punish those who shoved open the door still permeates China. Decisions are often avoided or passed on to superiors. And who can blame this cautious society for not comprehending the West's hunger for personal details about new Chinese sports heroes?

A request is made to speak with Zhu's family. "Impossible," sports federation officials say. "The family house is under repair."

Elsewhere, perhaps?

"They're going away to visit someone."

Can we see his dorm?

"No, he's going to watch his friends train after his workout."

Afterward?

"It's not possible."

Why?

"It's not convenient."

But then how can we ever know a Chinese athlete...?

Zhu was born in the Year of the Rabbit on the Chinese calendar, and the eyes of that animal, caught in a headlight, are his. The introverted boy looked for a door to shut on the world and found none. Seven people lived inside his tiny house, 11 million in his city, one billion in his country.

The average living space for a Chinese city dweller is four and one half feet by nine feet, the size of a pool table. Zhu is no average Chinese. In a land of diminutive people, his body kept growing. He wanted to escape all their stares, lie in his bed and read or sleep, but even his bed was too small. Finally, he built his own in the hallway and hung it from the ceiling.

He's the fifth and last child of a man who weighs vegetables trucked in from the communes and a woman who paints houses and furniture. They pampered him even more than most parents do in a nation of child worshippers, where adults dress themselves in drab blue and green and their little emperors in radiant colors. The fact that he was the youngest, and sickly, and a boy—female infanticide is still common in China—only made them baby him more. In later years, Zhu's coach had to disguise workouts in order to make them seem like games because Zhu had never known work as a child.

His muscles never grew strong. He caught colds regularly, pneumonia twice. Four times a day he chewed the yellow tetracycline tablets that blackened his teeth and those of so many other young Chinese that the government finally stopped dispensing them two years ago.

But his greatest agony was his height. Classmates laughed when he tried to run, knocked him down when he tried to play. "Bean sprout" they taunted him, and he felt so ashamed he could only turn and walk away.

But where? In the narrow streets of Shanghai, pedestrians walk shoulder to shoulder, scattering and rebunching with each ring from the bell of one of the cavalry of black and white bicycles. Every front door seems to be open to invite in a breath of air, every outside wall is covered with drying vegetables and laundry, every patch of shade is occupied by some old woman whose face and teeth match the color of the little rattan chair she sits on. There's no privacy in Shanghai.

He turned his shoulders inward and hung his head like a confessing man, but still he shot past his 6'2" father. Years later, even when the citizens of Shanghai would look up at him as their greatest sports hero and no longer as a freak, the old shame would linger. At 21, even for the sake of a photograph, he would hate to stand still in his city.

One day when Zhu was 10, a man from a spare-time sports school came to watch the boys at Zhu's school play. In the Chinese system, spare-time schools are for gifted athletes between 10 and 18, who train there in the afternoon after they finish classes at their regular schools. Hu watched all the smaller boys dart past the awkward tall one, but the only picture that remained in his mind was those legs, longer than any schoolboy's Hu had ever seen. He asked the children to jump over a bar. The other boys knocked it off, but not Zhu.

One day after Zhu began training at the spare-time school, he did not appear for practice. His mother, who had never even heard of the high jump and didn't want her baby hurt, had kept him home.

"Look at me," Hu cried to her. "I have gray hair. I have experience. Have faith in me."

Reluctantly, she let her son return, but she sent Jianhua's sister to spy through a hole in the gate. She raced home to report the horror she had witnessed. "Mother, Jianhua has to keep jumping up and falling on the ground," she said.

The mother burst into tears. "But, mother," Jianhua explained when he got home, "I jump onto a cushion, and it is soft." With the support of his father, a soccer fan, Jianhua finally got her to let him resume jumping.

His sport changed him. One day Hu had to stop Zhu from jumping when he saw blood on his sock. A splinter had entered his foot and the wound festered, but he had said nothing because he wanted so badly to compete that week. The coach pulled it out, and Zhu won. Displaying his newfound talent made it so much easier to live inside his long, bony body.

Hu raised the bar higher and discovered that the vulnerable boy had another problem: fear of height. Sometimes Zhu would race to the bar and at the last moment duck under it. The coach raised a bed to the height of the bar, and the more Zhu leaped and plopped onto the bed, the more the fear went away.

Hu began to sense that he had found something that would make his old age happy. He had been a typist and a track coach, but then in 1966 his life became a sorry, stagnant thing when Mao loosed a monster upon the land called the Cultural Revolution. Anything artistic or intellectual was considered bad, anything competitive was considered capitalistic. Hu was ordered to stay home for three years, to read Marxist-Leninist literature and become more "politically conscious."

What Hu actually became was athletically unconscious. He didn't learn of the Fosbury flop he would later teach Zhu until 1971, three years after Dick Fosbury had used it to win the gold medal at the Mexico City Olympics. "For three years I got fat," says Hu. "I got nervous. I had to go out and do exercises. I am a coach."

Sports took on a mutant form in the following years that would have kept the world from ever hearing of Zhu had he been born a decade earlier. In the 1975 National Games, the crowd was instructed to hold up flash cards depicting Mao and a scene of a Chinese patrol boat firing on an enemy ship, which burst into flames. A losing women's basketball team was advanced into the finals for not arguing a referee's poor call. A champion Chinese gymnast, after pausing to give pointers to her rivals during competition, was quoted as saying, "I want to help others so they may overtake me. Skill and experience are not private property."

Mao died in 1976, Deng Xiaoping won the power grab that followed, and pragmatism began eclipsing ideology in Chinese society and sports. Not only could Zhu dust off his opponents without guilt, but he could also even wear a decadent capitalist Walkman in the infield before doing it.

When he was still 17, he was jumping more than seven feet. His attitude toward his event was different from that of other high jumpers, who pumped weights to build their upper bodies and used arm lift to increase their explosion. Zhu didn't begin weight training until last year, and even then Hu had him do little more than light squats and little leaps with the barbell on his shoulders once or twice a week. Zhu, who like most Chinese athletes hates lifting weights, readily agreed.

Many experts in the West who watched Zhu jump and learned of his training would question Hu's coaching, wondering how high this young colt might leap with "proper" technique. But Hu's results were difficult to argue with, and his greatest contribution might be his role as father and nurse to the timid jumper, anyway.

The government permitted Hu to discontinue his other duties as track coach and make Zhu his full-time job. He rooms with Zhu on road trips and makes sure that windows are shut against drafts and that he's dressed warmly in winter. "I still have to scold him sometimes," Hu says. "Right now he's still dependent on me, but he will adapt when I retire."

But every journey Zhu made outside of China seemed to emphasize how susceptible to chill winds he still was. A trip to America and Canada last February was canceled because of a fever. He was sick in Philadelphia during a 1980 meet. He sprained an ankle at the 1981 University Games in Bucharest. Six weeks later, still injured, he finished last at the World Cup.

But at home he excelled, and last June, in the prelims to China's National Games in Peking, he broke by half an inch the world record of 7'8¾" that had been set by Gerd Wessig of East Germany in 1980. Only a few hundred people were there, mostly other Chinese athletes, and the news brought outside conjecture that the jump was drug-aided. "We wish we had this kind of drug in China, but unfortunately we have not," said Wu Zhongyuan, director of China's Olympic press committee.

Once more, the introverted boy left the introverted country to show them all in the Helsinki world championships. Calamity awaited him again. On the first leg of his trip, he left 70° Shanghai and landed in 98° Peking. The temperature change made him vomit. He stopped in Moscow to change planes, stepped into a ditch and again hurt an ankle. In Helsinki he stepped on a stone and hurt the ankle again. He had trouble sleeping at night. The spikes on his jumping shoes kept snapping—Zhu's leg thrust is so powerful, a Chinese sports researcher says Zhu's last step hits the ground with the force of a 1,764-pound man putting all his weight on one foot, about 200 more pounds than other Chinese high jumpers. Working frantically in its Tokyo factory, Nike strengthened the nylon anchors for the spikes and flew the new pair of shoes to Zhu just in time.

He'd never jumped on two straight nights as he had to in Helsinki, and the finals the second evening stretched over four hours as the temperature dipped into the 50s. Zhu kept zipping himself into a sleeping bag between jumps, but he felt his frail body becoming cold and weary. Every strange noise and sight jerked his head, every new stimulus strummed his spine. He cleared 7'6", and then, as he was preparing for his first attempt at 7'7¼", a thunderclap startled him. Fifty thousand Finns had exploded at the sight of countrywoman Tiina Lillak's winning javelin throw, and now an old man was bolting out to present her with a Finnish flag, with the police in hot pursuit. Zhu watched all this Western madness with wide eyes, and only nine seconds remained on the 90-second jump clock when he finally took off. He missed badly and then blew his final two attempts. Thus, that disappointing third-place finish.

"Our training has not been scientific enough," chided China Sports magazine when Zhu returned home, and he stoked himself for the National Games in September, where he could redeem himself in his very own city. When the bar was raised to 7'9¾", the stadium hushed. On his second try, he cleared it, geysering from the pit to acknowledge the storm in the stands. Someone stuck a bouquet of flowers in his hand, a flock of photographers chased him, and when he jogged over to shake the hand of a vice-premier of the People's Republic, the fans on that side of the stadium crushed down to touch him.

Oh, what a night that was at Zhu's little home. His brother burst in with the news that his wife had just given birth to a baby boy and that they had named him Zhu Jie ("triumphant Zhu"), and well-wishers filled the house and spilled by the hundreds out into the streets, skedaddling and cheering each time celebratory firecrackers shook the air.

"Long live Zhu!" they kept shouting. And then, "Where is Zhu?"

Quietly, he had checked into a Shanghai hotel, where he would stay for a week.

Eight years after soft-hearted losing was being extolled over hard-nosed winning, Zhu was presented 2,000 yuan ($1,000, or more than three times the annual per capita income in China) for his world record. He was also given an apartment, an even greater treasure. He gave the apartment to his newlywed brother and continues living in his dorm. Every Saturday evening, he faithfully pedals his Phoenix bicycle to his parents' home.

He still eats with the other students in the school cafeteria, but his meal is specially prepared, containing more seafood and chicken to keep his protein intake high. New friends are more important to him than nutrition, and so he often passes his dish around the table.

Zhu isn't a member of the Communist Party, but was elected a deputy of the People's Congress. His functions include an occasional tour of his district to report on working and living conditions. Occasionally he misses practice during the winter to shovel snow on campus.

The man voted China's top athlete for 1983 in a nationwide write-in poll lives with three other students in a 215-square-foot dorm room, submits to a teacher's bed check each evening and sleeps in an extra-large bed. He keeps his medals and trophies packed away; displaying them, he feels, would be showing off.

An automobile remains years away for Zhu—there are only an estimated 200 to 300 private cars in China. But billfolds and BMWs are not what spell power behind the Bamboo Curtain. In a country where red tape adheres to every piece of a person's life, influence outweighs wealth—and Zhu has influence.

That means free meals at whatever Shanghai restaurant he enters. And it means permission to be the only Chinese Olympic athlete with a personal coach and freedom to stay in his hometown to train.

The typical Chinese Olympic athlete was summoned to spend most of this past spring in Peking. On this afternoon in April, as new recruits of the People's Liberation Army drill in the spacious parking lot of the National Athletic Training Center, construction workers perched on bamboo scaffolding peer through sooty second-floor windows into the gymnasium, watching one of the world's best gymnasts, Li Ning, hop from station to station of his workout. Over large stereo speakers, piano versions of Summertime and A Man and a Woman accompany him. A few years ago, the deejay who chose such tunes would have been on the night train heading toward one of the labor camps.

Across the width of the gym, a purple banner with black letters exhorts gymnasts to TRY YOUR BEST TO WIN POINTS FOR THE TEAM IN THE OLYMPICS.

The steady barrage of propaganda—most athletes take four hours a week of political classes, compared to Zhu's one hour—finds its mark, or at least the athletes make sure to give it lip service. "I don't know what I will do when I retire, but it will be for the honor of the motherland," says Li after his workout, during which he wore an Adidas jersey. "As for personal glory, it is to bring honor to the motherland."

China pumps $150 million a year into sports, a figure expected to rise each year from now on. Chinese have achieved world-class status in about a third of Olympic sports; its gymnasts, especially Li and Tong Fei, diver Chen Xiaoxia, 56-kilo weight lifter Wu Shude and Zhu may be the world's best. For the first time ever, China was the top gold-medal winner in the quadrennial Asian Games held in 1982 in New Delhi.

But there will be no Chinese blind side in the '84—or even '88—Olympics. The selection problems, especially in the countryside, are still staggering. Weightlifting and flexibility programs are rarely established at an early age. Nautilus-type equipment is nowhere to be found. Body-fat content, thanks to a diet heavy with starch and fried foods, is often high. Self-discipline is limited; the Chinese seem to crave working in groups. There are no full-time athletes, like Soviet swimmers or American sprinters; all must either work, attend a university or do military duty, although they're usually freed from such obligations in the weeks before major events.

International experience still lags—authorities are seemingly still too worried about defections to allow athletes to remain long in the West. And, in a homogeneous, socialized society of more than one billion, it's possible that selflessness has become too ingrained to pique the hunger for individual success.

Coaches often qualify simply by retiring as athletes. They will evaluate prospective Chinese sprinters on the basis of the average weight, height, leg speed and stride length of the sprinters in the world championships and wonder why the results come nowhere near Carl Lewis's. Part of the problem is intensity. "The East Germans and Russians are blinkered in their approach," says Whitby, the sprint coach temporarily based in the People's Republic, "but the Chinese might be just too balanced in their approach to life.

"One day I was told there would be no workout—all the sprinters and coaches had gone off to plant trees. Another day I was timing them running a course in a park. I realized they were cutting corners, and I started yelling. My interpreter just laughed. They've got to realize how intense the rest of the world is."

Soviet athletes visiting Peking for an '82 invitational track meet were shocked to see Chinese athletes smoking at a banquet just before the meet. Another generation may pass before Chou En-lai's proclamation, "Friendship first, competition second," is burned from the psyche of People's Republic athletes.

Despite all the obstacles, the potential of a country with one billion bicycle riders in its recruiting area cannot be neglected. The future of the Chinese Olympic movement may hinge on the number of heartbeats 80-year-old Deng has left. If he can breathe the concept of open-door pragmatism into his country's soul before he dies, Zhu may be remembered only as the first ripple of a Chinese Wave.

"We really don't care much about the points or gold medals," declares Ma Qiwei, president of the Peking Sports Institute. "We just want to participate and make more friends."

"If Zhu wins a gold medal, we will be very glad," adds Huang, "but if not, it doesn't matter."

Zhu sits quietly at a banquet table, picking at his food and considering this question of medals, a pair of brown plastic-rimmed eyeglasses only adding to his un-Olympianness.

He knows his event is considered wide open, with several Americans and two West Germans considered nearly his equal. He knows that twice a day in August, millions of Chinese will cram around communal TV sets in their housing complexes or into the homes of the lucky neighbors who own sets and strain to see over shoulders what is unfolding in Los Angeles. And he knows that three years ago, when the Chinese women's volleyball team defeated the U.S. and then Japan to win the World Cup, that Peking was rocked by demonstrations 200,000 people strong, brandishing torches and chanting, "Long live China!"

He turns to the interpreter, who nods assent, and this time his answer seems naked of dogma or diffidence. "When I jump," Zhu says, "I jump with one billion people on my shoulders. If I do not hope or want to win a gold medal, there is no reason for me even to go."

Unknowingly, the introverted boy struck upon the secret that would ease the awkwardness of the introverted country's journey into the outside world, because far more understandable to the West is a stranger who would beat it at its own game, than one who would not want to.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)