Bouncing on a trampoline is fun. Double Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan has never forgotten that. And it has, alongside a once-in-a-generation coach and the self-perpetuating success of her compatriots, helped place her at the centre of Canada’s golden run in gymnastics’ youngest Olympic discipline.
Rosie MacLennan likes being first. She is the first trampoline gymnast to win back-to-back Olympic titles, the first Canadian to defend an Olympic title and the first Canadian to win two gold medals in a Summer Games individual event. These historic achievements sit within a remarkable context.
“My team-mate was telling me yesterday there have been 30 [Olympic] medals handed out in trampoline [since the discipline’s debut at the Sydney 2000 Games], and Skyriders [her club in Ontario] have seven,” she said. “It’s spectacular when you think about it.”
It certainly is, and MacLennan believes there is one man at the heart of it all.
“It really goes to show the environment my coach Dave [Ross] has built,” MacLennan said of the 70-year-old who has masterminded Canada’s production line. “What drives him is his passion for the sport. He’s obviously trying to get his athletes to a high level but it’s not about winning for him, and that, in some ways, takes the pressure off and helps steer you in the right direction, in terms of prioritising joy.
“He gets as much joy from watching a kid learning a back flip for the first time versus a senior doing a world record-difficulty routine. It’s that progress, that learning which he loves, and he’s able to instil that passion for the sport in a lot of the athletes he trains, creating an environment that is supportive and encouraging and challenging.”
Ross and his innate sense that trampoline is nothing if not joyous was demonstratively the origin of a virtuous circle which shows no sign of slowing down. MacLennan was nearly 12 years old when trampoline first appeared on the Olympic programme at Sydney 2000. For a youngster with big ambitions, she was in the perfect place.
“It was really powerful because I’d been at the World [Age Group] Championships in 1999, so I got to see Karen [Cockburn] and Mathieu [Turgeon] qualify their spots. As a young kid, that made a real impression. Not only that, but I got to see them in between earning a place and competing at the Games. I’d see them show up, work really hard. Sometimes it would go well and they would come back and train even harder, or sometimes it wouldn’t go well and they would still train even harder,” MacLennan said.
“It was really incredible to watch their journey, and then obviously when they not only competed on the Olympic stage but stood on the podium, that was a really powerful moment. It was someone I knew; someone I could watch and learn from. It made it real. It sounds really funny – obviously they are real people – but because I could talk to them, see their medals, hear about their experiences, it gave me a really realistic view and showed me it was very possible.”
MacLennan knew right from the start that Beijing 2008 would be the first Games she was eligible for and, bang on cue, she qualified. She went on to perform well, reaching the final and finishing seventh. But, having watched her mentor Cockburn collect a third successive Olympic medal, MacLennan left China with one thought.
“All I wanted to do was get back in to training and work hard for the next four years so I could come home with a medal too,” she confirmed, the smile competing with the steel in her voice.
It was at London 2012 that the Canadian learned to take her natural sense of playfulness and wonder into the most highly pressurised of environments. After what she termed a “not particularly good” first routine in the final, MacLennan was visualising her second effort when she opened her eyes and spotted her family.
“I stuck my tongue out at my brother, and it just lightened the mood,” she revealed. Within minutes, she was remembering that she was living her dream, competing at the very top in a sport she loved. It changed everything. MacLennan went on to produce a career-high score of 57.305, comfortably enough for the gold.
“From that point forwards, I have always been able to hold on to that sense of fun,” she said. “Being able to keep in mind that, whether I do the best routine of my life or I fall on my face, it doesn’t define who I am as a person, and it doesn’t define who I am as an athlete.”
Ultimately, Canada’s only gold at the 2012 Games was MacLennan’s. Agonisingly, Cockburn, who was competing for the final time after two silvers and a bronze in the preceding three Games, finished fourth. This made it a “bittersweet” moment for MacLennan, who had formed an incredibly close bond with Canada’s first female trampoline star.
Can’t believe this was four years ago. Watching this definitely got me excited for training today. 😊💪🏻❤️ https://t.co/GBYjrjiXbt— Rosie MacLennan (@RosieMacLennan) August 12, 2020
But there is no doubt who the current heroine is. After overcoming injury in the year leading up to Rio 2016, MacLennan once again found her happy, carefree place and dominated a second Olympic Games edition. Her gold was among 16 female and six male Canadian medals – a fact which made it even more special.
“That was fun, knowing those Games could have a huge impact on women’s sport back in Canada,” MacLennan said. “At my club, there are a lot more girls trying out and training. We have a really wicked group of 10-16-year-old girls who just love it, love the sport, love training. There are a couple of [senior] girls at my gym who are so fun to watch. They are so hungry, learning every day and trying all these new skills. They are some of my favourite people to train with because you get that excitement all the time.”
The MacLennan effect is clear and, in 2021, she will attempt to take it to stratospheric levels. One thing is for sure – her smile will stay in place, no matter what.
“Dave and I talked about routines after Rio, and he was like, ‘I just want to see you do cool things, whatever about the medals’. That brings the joy again,” said MacLennan, who will compete in the Japanese capital 81 years after her grandfather was denied a place at the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 1940 by the outbreak of the Second World War.