Bouncing to new heightsKaren Cockburn wants to improve on her Olympic bronze
By ROB LONGLEY, TORONTO SUN
For Karen Cockburn, the bronze medal spoke volumes. It spoke to the people who raised eyebrows at her before she went to Sydney, skeptical that trampoline was really an Olympic sport.
It answered any questions she may have had about where she fit on the world stage of the gymnastics discipline.
And it meant the athlete from North York was an Olympic medallist, a rare treat for the underachieving Canadian team at the 2000 Games.
"People made a lot of jokes about it or thought that we trained in our backyards on those round trampolines," Cockburn said this week. "I tried to explain to them that we train on professional trampolines and that we go 18-20 feet in the air and do multiple twists and triple summersaults.
"I think that was one of the hardest things because it was a new sport and no one really knew about it."
Fast forward four years and they don't necessarily know much about it now, either. What you should know, however, is that by virtue of her win at the world championships this past October in Germany, the 23-year-old will head to Athens as a solid gold-medal favourite.
"It was amazing, so many people felt like they were a part of it, whether they were relatives or people you know," Cockburn said of the immediate post-Sydney glow. "They could all share in the experience."
Trampoline will still be seen as a fringe sport in Greece and won't garner the attention of track and field or rowing in terms of profile. But it also should appear more on the radar screen this time around -- especially with a legit Canadian contender in the competition.
"A lot of people still don't realize it's a sport, but (winning a medal) raised the profile," Cockburn said. "I've had all these kids doing school projects on me the last few years. It's exciting and kind of funny with people treating me like I'm this star."
Cockburn has a World Cup win in Sweden this year and also has been to Athens for an Olympic testing event. Next week, she'll compete in the Canadian championships at Humber College.
With an Olympic berth sewn up by her performance at the Worlds, the heat will be off. Instead, Cockburn will use the Nationals as a chance to develop new routines for Athens.
Besides the thrill it brought her and long-time coach, Dave Ross, there was another important perk attached to winning the global championship last fall in Germany.
"In a judged sport it's really important," Cockburn said. "I had always done pretty well, but maybe wasn't rewarded as much as others. That's kind of the way it is. Now, in two World Cups this year, I've finished first and second. So I guess I've made an impression."
Not with some of her professors at York University, however. Like many Olympians, the third-year business student has put her life on hold. Cockburn felt juggling classes was too much of a diversion and has taken the year off from school.
"It's too hard when you have to go away for three weeks to get extensions (on exams or papers)," she said. "I find a lot of profs aren't very understanding, even if you tell them you are an Olympian."
A medal-winning Olympian at that.