New aerialist a gym dandy

ROB BRODIE

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Call it Olivier Rochon's leap of faith.

The 17-year-old spent 11 years of his life -- including a decade at the Ottawa Gymnastics Centre -- building himself into a national teamer in men's gymnastics.

He'd put himself on track for a shot at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, with the door to international opportunity about to open for him.

But Rochon underwent a major about face in the past year or so. Now he's on the fast track to an Olympics that's two years sooner, and right in his homeland.

"It would probably be a dream come true," the Gatineau native said about the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games.

Rochon can surely think that way, now that he's a gymnast turned full-time aerials freestyle skier. Former Olympian Nicolas Fontaine recruited him for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association's Jump 2010 program, which aims to qualify one or more young freestylers to soar above a cheering crowd of home-country fans in Whistler, B.C.

"I tried out (aerials jumping) this summer on water ramps (at Le Relais, near Quebec City)," said Rochon. "I liked it, so I've decided to stay with it."

MOGULS BACKGROUND

Rochon, who has a background in moguls freestyle with the National Capital Development program, might not have made the switch if a wrist injury hadn't put his gymnastics plans on hold.

"(The injury) put me in a position to have surgery, and probably a year of rehab," he said.

Now he's putting his gymnastic ability to different use, flying high over snow-covered hills. It's a new trend in freestyle.

"Nicolas was looking for athletes who were in gymnastics, trampoline or any acrobatic discipline," said Rochon. "It really helps you because it gives you a good sense in the air, more than if you didn't have (that kind of) experience."

Though his gymnastics past helped the transition from the gym mat to snow, Rochon still called it "kind of weird. It was a new sensation, it was different."

But he's learning quickly.

At a U.S. Freestyle Ski Frenzy event four days before Christmas, Rochon finished fifth against a field chock full of more experienced aerialists.

Today, he jumps into it with both feet, so to speak: The CFSA is giving him a shot at his first World Cup aerials event, at Mont-Gabriel, Que.

"This is a great opportunity for me," said Rochon, who's been rooming with Warren Shouldice of Calgary, who placed sixth at the Turin Olympics. "I'm not expecting to be on the podium or anything, because I'm just doing double (flips) and they're doing triples ... it should be a good experience."

SUPER SELECTIONS: Four players from Ottawa-Gatineau have made the final Team Canada Football roster, and will wear the country's colours at the NFL Global Junior Football Championship. The tournament runs Jan. 29-Feb. 3 as part of Super Bowl weekend activities in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area. Defensive lineman Scott Fournier of Ottawa and offensive lineman Sebastien Tache of Gatineau are two of the five returnees from the team that beat the U.S. 10-0 in last year's title game in Detroit. New to the squad in 2007 are running back Youcef Lekadir of Orleans (Myers Riders) and defensive lineman Scott Mitchell of Manotick (St. Mark H.S.). The selection camp for the team, held last month in Rosemere, Que., attracted 120 players.

WAVING THE FLAG: Gatineau's Valerie Marcoux, the reigning three-time Canadian pairs champion (with Craig Buntin), has been selected to carry the Quebec flag in the opening ceremony at the Canadian figure skating championships in Halifax. Allie Hann-McCurdy of the Gloucester Skating Club and ice dance partner Michael Coreno will do the honours for B.C. They're now based at the B.C. Centre of Excellence in Burnaby. The nationals run Jan. 15-21 at Metro Centre.

AROUND THE AMATEUR SCENE: Led by two-time Olympian Robin Clegg of Ottawa, the Canadian men's biathlon team posted an impressive 14th-place finish in a relay event Thursday in Oberhof, Germany. Clegg placed 53rd in a 10-km sprint yesterday, but expects better days are ahead. "I am confident that I will achieve some great results this season,'' he said. ''It's just a matter of putting it all together on the same day." ... The Ottawa Ice remain sixth in the current Elite Eight rankings in the National Ringette League.


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