Jones and Douglas were roommates in Krasnoyarsk. Douglas, an African-American, didn't like to walk the streets. He was a curiosity, the first black man many Siberians had seen. They would point at him, touch his skin. They would bring their children to see him, to ask for autographs. There was nothing malicious to it, but Douglas didn't like it. He felt like Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson in a crowd.
He and Jones watched a lot of television in their room, even though the picture on all three channels was in black and white and the dialogue was in Russian.
The atmosphere in the Yenisei Sports Palace was quiet, refined. The arena, built in 1982 and refurbished for these championships, was a concrete representation of an ancient ark. The building was not cost-efficient. The high walls were too close together, especially at the ends of the ark. Only 4,000 seats fit inside.
Most of the men in the seats wore suits and sport coats. The few women tended to wear dresses or nightclub outfits. The opening ceremonies were dignified. Schoolchildren sang. Team representatives were given round loaves of Siberian bread. Two floppy white polar bear mascots, both named Mishka, did somersaults. The past greats of Russian wrestling—topped by Krasnoyarsk native and businessman Ivan Yarygin, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner and the president of the Russian wrestling federation—were introduced. Yarygin, who would die in a car accident less than two months later, sat through all the matches on a platform with the president and bureau members of FILA, the international governing body of wrestling. They looked as if they were reviewing a never-ending May Day parade.
The first match involving an American, at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Aug. 28, was between Jones and the North Korean. In wrestling, there is no seeding. First-round bouts are arranged by a blind draw. This means that any two wrestlers can meet in the first round of the competition. The best match can be the first. That was what the Americans thought might happen here. They did not know much about the North Korean—they debated whether he was the North Korean who had won the gold medal at 105.5 pounds in Atlanta—but they knew he was good. "I think he's young," Coach Smith seemed to say.
"He looks pretty young to me," assistant Mark Manning said.
"No, I mean his name," Smith said. "I think his name is Yung." The name actually was Ju Dong Jin, and he was not the Olympic medal winner.
Jones was coming off a frustrating summer. He'd had knee surgery after the trials, then an operation to clean out a staph infection from the first operation, then a third operation because the second operation didn't work. He had only a month and a half for rehabilitation and training. He did not need to see the North Korean this early.
The match was difficult for Jones from the start. The two men circled each other, Jones active, the North Korean extremely low, following the wrestling stereotypes. The wrestlers slapped at each other's heads. They feinted, locked, unlocked. The North Korean took an early 1-0 lead, and Jones came back to tie. Slap and slap. Midway through the third minute of regulation, the North Korean took control. In rapid succession he scored with a reversal for a point, a crotch lift for two and a spin takedown for one. A late takedown by Jones meant nothing. Done. The score was 5-2. Five minutes into the competition, Jones was out of the gold medal bracket.
"I tell myself the knee wasn't a factor," he said. "It didn't hurt. At the same time, though, I didn't have that jump, that edge."