By Jason Burnett
I was 21 years old when I competed at my first Olympic Games. As a first-time Olympian, I was considered an underdog. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I knew I wanted a medal.
In a typical trampoline competition, athletes show a panel of judges 2 routines composed to 10 different skills. Judges score the routines based on form, height, ability to stay in the center of the trampoline and degree of difficulty. The first routine demonstrates the basic elements of trampoline, and the second routine shows off the big tricks!
On the day of prelims I was extremely nervous. During my first routine I made a lot of mistakes and lost valuable points for poor form and traveling away from the center of the trampoline. By the end of the first round I was sitting in 14th place out of 16 athletes. This was a pretty bad spot to be in. I knew it, and my coach knew it too. I needed to be in the top 8 to have a shot at a medal. So I asked my coach Dave for some advice. He said it was time to “go big or go home”.
We had originally planned a fairly conservative second routine. I was going to rely on good form, height and control to get me through. But now that wouldn’t be enough. So we came up with a new plan to increase my degree of difficulty. I wasn’t allowed to take any more warm-up turns before competing, so I went back to the training hall to visualize my harder routine.
In the training hall I got in the zone. So much so that I lost track of time. Suddenly, Dave bursts through the doors yelling, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING!!? YOU’RE UP!!”. Only then do I realize that the athlete from Japan who competes right before me is already half way through his routine! Trampoline routines are only 20 seconds long, meaning we have about 10 seconds before it’s my turn. So we start to SPRINT. Out of the training hall, back into the Olympic Stadium, and jumping over gymnastics equipment just to get to the trampolines on time! We get there as the athlete from Japan finishes. He has a big smile on his face. He just did a great routine, and qualified for the finals. Meanwhile, I’m there clutching my heart, catching my breath and thinking about everything that has gone wrong. But as I get up on the trampoline, one final thought enters my head: “I have to do the best routine of my life right now”.
I start jumping high. Really high. The first few skills go well, so I start adding in extra flips and twists everywhere I can. On the 10th skill, I kill my bounce and stick the landing. Things had finally gone right! And thankfully the judges agreed. I had the highest scoring optional of the day and squeaked into finals in 7th place.
This experience filled me with confidence and on the day of finals I believed I could do it! I focused on my skills, hit the routine of my life, and walked away with a silver medal.
Never count out the underdog. A boost of confidence might be the only thing separating them from performing like a champion!