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Trampoliners Seek Bounce

September 21, 2000

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ The new Olympic sport of trampoline is a whirlwind of twists, somersaults and 25-foot jumps, but to some the whole idea seems better suited to the backyard than the world’s grandest athletic stage.

``We know the perception people have,″ said Ann Sims, director of USA Gymnastics’ modest trampolining program.

``They see backyard tramps as they drive around their neighborhood. I think they think that’s what we’re going to do. And I think they’re going to be surprised when they see us jumping 26 feet in the air.″

The only American in the event, Jennifer Parilla, competes Friday, when the women jump their way through qualifying and finals at the SuperDome, the same stage where Alexei Nemov and Andreea Raducan won gold in the artistic gymnastics all-around.

Those two might look like gutless wonders when the tricks on tramp begin.

Trampolinists have to string 10 straight jumps together without a single break. Parilla’s routine will cover 21 somersaults and 10 1/2 twists in the span of 20 seconds. If a gymnast loses balance or stops in the middle, there is no restart, the way they do in a bars or pommel horse routine in artistic gymnastics.

``There’s nothing easy about it,″ said Parilla’s coach, Robert Null.

For a sport with an X-Games attitude, there’s a surprisingly rich history involved.

The first world championships were held in 1964, and the United States pretty much dominated the sport through the late 1970s.

But injuries on trampolines nationwide were on the rise. The American Medical Association filed a report detailing the dangers of trampolining. Liability lawsuits were rising steadily, and by the early 1980s, almost every Boys and Girls Club, YMCA and neighborhood rec center had removed tramps from their gyms.

The sport slowly withered in America, especially at the highest levels.

Meanwhile, with no Olympic sanctioning, there was no big final prize for those who were interested. Only a few dozen bold and brave athletes stuck with it in those dark days, continuing lessons at private clubs that were still willing to shoulder the liability risk and build a program.

Parilla was among the bold and brave, and now she’s getting the ultimate reward.

``Ever since I qualified, I can’t go to bed without thinking about the Olympics,″ she said. ``I compete in my head every single night.″

Parilla was the most energetic of rug rats growing up.

Her favorite drill was running from the end of the hallway into her bedroom, then jumping from a mini-trampoline and landing on her bed, a practice that undoubtedly thrilled her parents to no end.

``We went through several mattresses and box springs that way,″ said her father, Paul Parilla. ``She definitely loved to perform.″

They found a trampolining program in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., and tried to redirect that energy under the tutelage of Null, who still trains the 19-year-old today.

``It’s a sport for people who like to be up in the air and doing things,″ Null said. ``Timid people generally don’t make it. You kind of have to be aggressive and go for it in this sport, and that’s the way Jennifer is.″

She won her first international competition at age 9 and kept pushing forward, competing in the big meets, many of them in Europe, where the sport didn’t carry the stigma or liability problems.

In 1997, trampolining earned status as an Olympic sport, and suddenly, Parilla had a chance to take her show to the highest level.

She’s considered to have an outside chance of winning a medal in the one-day competition.

The Americans don’t have any men in Saturday’s meet.

One of the consequences of America’s scuttling of the sport for so long is that all the best jumpers now live in Europe. The gold-medal favorite is Irina Karavayeva of Russia, a country that didn’t even have this sport until an American promoter introduced it there in 1960.

Sims figures if there’s any sport that could use some exposure back in the States, even if it’s just a segment or two on tape-delay, it would be trampoline.

``Not everybody has to like it,″ Sims said. ``But we believe in it. We have a passion for it. We know it’s a difficult sport, a dangerous sport, but it’s also a fun sport. I think if people watch, they’ll agree with that.″

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