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COLUMNISTS

Sat, August 21, 2004

Lady and the tramp


ATHENS -- Legs shaking and hands trembling, the girl who is afraid of heights soared to new ones yesterday. In an effort to combat the pressure that came with being a world champion and heavy medal favourite, Toronto trampolinist Karen Cockburn simplified her routine at the last minute and added silver from Athens to her bronze medal from Sydney. "My first medal is in a drawer because sometimes when I go to schools to talk I bring it," laughed the 23-year-old when asked where she'd hang her new keepsake.

"Now I can put two in there."

Simple enough.

Well aware of a misguided -- yet prevalent -- mood back home that suggests Canada should have racked up more medals by now, Cockburn's nerves prompted her to "skill-down" her routines.

"People are always saying 'we don't have any medals,' and when you're expected to win one because you have the results you feel the pressure and put even more of it on yourself," said Cockburn, who squeezed into the final of eight with Heather Ross-McManus of Almonte, Ont.

"I went to Sydney at 19 and was happy to be there because there were no expectations. This time, I was feeling a little shaky in the prelims because of the expectations and a lot of the other competitors were not hitting their routines."

Having only had one morning session to get used to the apparatus at Olympic Indoor Hall, several competitors, including gold-medal favourite Irina Karavaeva of Russia, failed to adjust quickly enough to make the final. So, Cockburn moved the degree of difficulty on her final routine from 15 to 14.6 -- still the highest in the field.

"I couldn't have handled it -- my legs were really shaky and when you're like that you can't hit a hard routine," said Cockburn, content the move didn't cost her gold.

"I was definitely glad I skilled it down because I might have been off the trampoline if I tried that one. I'm pretty confident and happy with my decision."

Performing fourth in the final, Cockburn punctuated her performance with a double fist-pump, knocking Ross-McManus out of first with a score of 39.2. With all the pressure off, she hugged her coach and broke into her first smile of the day while watching from the floor as the last four competitors tried to eclipse her mark.

"When I saw my score I was disappointed and knew it wasn't enough to win," said Cockburn, who generally needs over 40 to win internationally.

"I knew I wouldn't be in first for very long."

Cockburn applauded when the second-last competitor, Germany's Anna Dogonadze, scored a 39.60 to take gold.

"I saw the German girl win and she deserved it," said Cockburn, whose fear of heights is well-known. "I had some travel (moved around the trampoline) and I think that kind of separated gold from silver. But obviously I'm happy to get silver."

China's Shanshan Huang finished third.

"Usually she's not a nervous competitor and is pretty focused but you could see her feeling the pressure," said David Ross, Cockburn's longtime coach.

"A lot of the athletes failed their routines which makes you wonder, 'what if I fail my routine' or 'I'm not used to the trampoline or no warm-ups.'

"We had a routine for the final to try and go for broke so (not using it) is a minor disappointment. But she was probably smart not to use it because she could have finished sixth because it's such a tough event."

Turns out that's where Ross-McManus finished, which thrilled the effervescent 30-year-old.

Becoming just the 69th summer athlete to win multiple Olympic medals for Canada, Cockburn said her silver medal would have the same effect on her life the bronze did.

"Nothing," laughed Cockburn. "It'll be the same old, same old.'

At least it's a routine she's comfortable with.


Does Canada's low-medal haul in Athens bother you?
Yes, it depresses me
No, it's just sports
I'm disappointed, but not worried
We'll get 'em in Turin
Don't care

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