When Rosie MacLennan approached the podium at the North Greenwich Arena to collect the hardware for the women’s Olympic trampoline competition, she initially tried to line up behind the step for silver. The confusion only lasted an instant, but it was understandable. That’s the spot she had earned at the last world championships, up the road in Birmingham. And it’s where she seemed fated to land again at London 2012.
Ranked fourth heading into the finals, the 23-year-old Torontonian had delivered a flawless routine, twisting and tumbling through the humid air on her way to a score of 57.305, the highest of her career. The six combined elements were more difficult than anything attempted by her competitors, but she knew the real difference would be the kind of execution marks the judges awarded the three women still to perform.
The first, Tatsiana Piatrenia of Belarus, failed to impress. Then came Huang Shanshan of China, whose score of 56.730 was only good enough for second. It all came down to her countrywoman He Wenna, the gold medalist in Beijing and reigning world champion. After a faultless opening round, the slight 23-year-old had seemed uncharacteristically nervous in the warm-ups, crashing into the trampoline’s edge on a landing. But her routine was controlled and elegant until its final seconds, when she lost her footing on her last landing, falling backwards. Her score of 55.950 was only good enough for third place—denying another Canadian, Karen Cockburn, a bronze by just 0.090 marks.
And just like that Rosie MacLennan was Olympic champion, and Canada’s first gold medalist of the London Games.
Minutes later at the medal ceremony it was Shanshan who directed MacLennan to her rightful place, squarely in the centre of the podium, as the sound system played an odd techno version of the theme from Chariots of Fire. And when her name and country were finally called, MacLennan flashed a broad grin and stepped up to greatness, both arms thrust in the air. There were some tears too as O Canada echoed through what used to be the Millennium Dome. MacLellan tried to sing along, but the moment got the better of her.
Afterwards, with the heavy medallion hanging from a purple ribbon around her neck, she tried to put the journey into words. “It’s all still a little bit surreal. I was just so proud and excited. Representing your country at the Olympic Games is just such an honour.”
She had been nervous in the opening round, but being ranked fourth for the finals suited her just fine. “It’s a good place to be. You have nothing to lose, so you mind as well just give’er,” she said with a laugh.
And that’s what she did. MacLennan said she knew the beginning of her routine was strong, but then went on to autopilot. The career-high score was a surprise. But not as unexpected as Wenna’s mistake. ”The Chinese are so strong, and they hardly ever falter. So when they do, it’s so shocking.” As MacLennan spoke, he co-medalists were standing just feet away explaining themselves to their national media. Shanshan, speaking to the larger pack with the silver around her neck, was crying. Wenna, faced with only two reporters, looked almost suicidal, and was hiding the bronze in her hands.
MacLennan’s joy, however was tempered by Cockburn’s narrow miss. Winner of bronze in Sydney, and silvers in Athens and Beijing, the 31-year-old came agonizingly close to becoming the first female trampolinist to hit the podium in four consecutive Games. When MacLennan first joined the Toronto Skyriders Club at the age of eight, Cockburn was already an Olympic medalist and her hero. They have trained in the same gym for 15 years now, and for the last two Olympic cycles have been teammates and fast-friends. ”It’s definitely bittersweet. Our dream was to both be on the podium no matter where it was,” said MacLennan.
Canada’s coach, Dave Ross questioned the judges’ decision to place the Chinese tumbler ahead of Cockburn. “It’s a little disappointing to see someone fall and get a medal,” he said. But as a former judge himself, he knows that such competitions are subjective, and that pedigree wins points, sometimes even over performance. “When it’s that close, it’s a jugement call.”
And when Cockburn met the media, it was with tears in her eyes. ”Fourth is the worst place to finish,” she said. “I thought for sure I was going to be third. (Wenna’s) routine was good, but it wasn’t that good.”
MacLennan, who had eight family members in the audience—her parents Jane and John, brothers Mike and Matt, sister Kate, two aunts, and a sister-in-law—plus a couple of friends, all of them packed into a single flat, this week, sleeping on the floor, was hoping for a family celebration. And finally free of years of preparation, maybe some chocolate.
“It hasn’t quite hit me yet,” she said glancing down and laying her fingers on the glittering gold. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do.”