RIO DE JANEIRO—The Olympic fortnight came to a close yesterday with the twentieth and final world record set since the games began on August 6th. 12-year-old Jin Xiaobo of China, the youngest athlete competing in the 2016 Rio Games, stunned the sports world with a blistering rendition of Frédéric Chopin’s C Major Étude, Op. 10 No. 1, in the solo piano event final.
Jin’s jaw-dropping performance shattered long-held records in both tempo and dynamics categories, easily securing him the gold medal and the title of “Greatest Pianist in the World.”
Chopin’s notoriously difficult first étude, which has led countless pianists to injury and early retirement, is the only required piece in the final round. While its average performance time among concert pianists is around two minutes, Jin clocked in at an unthinkable 1’19’’, shattering the previous world record set by Vladimir Soultanov in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow by more than twenty seconds.
At 120 decibels, roughly the volume of a rock concert, Jin’s was also the loudest performance of the étude ever played, crushing Martha Argerich’s record (109 dB) set at the 1965 Chopin competition, long thought to be unbreakable. Indeed, the International Olympic Committee has confirmed that Jin’s performance was the loudest non-amplified piano playing in any genre in recorded history.
The feat is all the more astounding considering that Jin officially weighed in at a wispy 106 pounds (48 kg) at the start of the competition, one-third the weight of his nearest competitor, Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov. The petite Jin would stand alone on the pedestal at the medal ceremony, as Sokolov and fellow Russian Daniil Trifonov, who came in a distant second- and third-place, respectively, had their silver and bronze medals stripped after they were discovered to have taken illicit performance-enhancing beta-blockers prior to the finals.
Jin’s étude was furthermore exceptional for its unusually flawless execution. In an unprecedented move, the competition jury did not deduct a single point from his final point-total, as error-detection instruments indicated that Jin’s performance conformed perfectly to every pitch and rhythmic value specified by the score.
In terms of unrivaled individual performances witnessed at Rio over the past two weeks, critics and commentators are already including Jin’s name among the likes of Simone Biles, Usain Bolt, Katie Ledecky, and Michael Phelps. Some even think he should be ranked among the greatest athletes of all time.
“If you look at his age, his size, and the high technical difficulty of the routine, pianist Jin Xiaobo’s gold medal performance is far and away the greatest achievement of athleticism and virtuosity at this, or possibly any previous, Olympic Games,” said Bob Costas of NBC.
For all the glory of Jin’s historic victory in Rio, the moment was bittersweet for his legions of supporters. Many of his diehard fans were shocked to learn that Rio 2016 was the Chinese phenom’s first and last Olympics. Jin’s parents say that their son, currently a pre-college student at the Juilliard School in New York City, will retire from the concert stage at the end of the fall semester. Jin has dreams of becoming a surgeon, they say, and hopes to be accepted to Stanford medical school before he turns 18.