Trampolinist Karen Cockburn heads to Athens

Yesterday, world champion trampolinist Karen Cockburn touched down in Athens, keen to begin rehearsing for a chance at an Olympic gold. Canadians have pinned their hopes on this second-year York business student as one of 16 potential medal winners, for good reason.

Cockburn is at the top of her form. Four years since coming home with a bronze at the Summer Games in Sydney, Australia, she has become the reigning world champion in individual trampoline.

Athens doesn’t faze her, at least not the way the 2003 World Championships did. “At the Worlds, I was extremely nervous because I had the pressure of qualifying for the Olympics,” said Cockburn in a phone interview only hours before she caught her plane to Greece. She not only qualified, she became the first Canadian to win gold in individual trampoline at the World Championships. In July, she won the title again. That’s in addition to twice winning golds at World Cup meets this year.

Athens is Cockburn’s second Olympic competition and she expects it will be a different experience. In Sydney, trampoline as an Olympic sport made its debut and so did she. The first female to represent Canada in trampoline, she brought home a bronze. “It was just really special. I was only 19 at the time and didn’t know what to expect.”

Now, four years and dozens of world competitions later, she has changed. “I’ve grown up a lot. Four years is a long time and there’s a big difference between age 19 and 23. I’m focused on my goals more. I’m more mature.”

She’s competed in more international meets, added more difficult manoeuvres to her routine and improved her style. “I’m doing harder routines,” she says. She used to do the triple somersault with a half twist in a tuck position. Now she does it in a pike position. “It’s worth more points.” And she’s added another move – a double front somersault in a straight position with two and a half twists.

She says she’s also learned from her mistakes. At a meet last March in Athens, the five-foot-three athlete suffered a concussion in an off-balance fall. Instead of warming up between routines, she had stayed in the main competition area. “I just wasn’t as warmed up as I should have been.”

Cockburn began trampoline in 1992 at the age of 11. A competitive gymnast and diver, she used the trampoline as a tool to improve her aerial sense. She soon began competing, training at the Richmond Hill Skyriders Club under Dave Ross, national team coach.

“If I win the gold, I don’t think it’s going to affect my life a lot,” says Cockburn. “Winning the bronze didn’t.”

Left: Cockburn wearing her bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia

She’s returning to York in September to study business administration in the Faculty of Arts. Someday, she’d like to run her own trampoline show or be a sports administrator.

Right now, though, she’s rehearsing for the big day and doesn’t plan to leave the Olympic Village except for the opening ceremonies. The Olympic Games offer the only chance trampolinists get to rub shoulders with athletes in other sports. “I’m really excited about the opening ceremonies. It’s just so special, because you’re with all the best athletes from all the countries around the world. Your participation is significant. It’s symbolic.”