Trampolinist Rosie MacLennan won Canada’s first gold medal of the London Olympics, but her dear friend, teammate and Karen Cockburn did not stand on the podium alongside her as the two had always dreamed.
Cockburn, full of pride for her friend and sadness at the same time, left the arena, while a beaming MacLennan climbed on to the podium to receive Canada’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in trampoline. A crowd of her family and friends erupted in cheers and waved Canadian flags while the anthem boomed.
MacLennan, from King City, Ont., had recorded the best score of her career to beat China’s 2008 Olympic gold medalist, He Wenna. The Chinese rival was gunning hard to repeat until drama unfolded in her final routine, when she tumbled on her last skill, yet still ended up with enough points for bronze behind her teammate Shanshan Huang. That kicked 31-year-old Cockburn off the podium.
“It’s definitely bitter-sweet because our dream as to be on the podium together, no matter which way,” said 23-year-old MacLennan. “We’ve been hugely supportive of each other. I know I wouldn’t be where I am in my athletic career without her pushing me and motivating me and guiding me.”
The two Canadians started the day slow, MacLennan in fourth after the qualifying round and Cockburn in fifth. He and Huang, who have rivaled the Canadians for the podium at many competitions, were first and second. But with a clean slate in the final, they could unleash their best routines of the day.
Cockburn, a three-time Olympic medalist, turned in a solid routine, but was seen mouthing ‘not on the podium’ afterward to her coach, Dave Ross. MacLennan then stepped up with a routine loaded filled with challenging elements, sure that she would at least score big points for difficulty. Executed cleanly, the points for difficulty, execution and the flight time totaled an astounding 57.305, putting her in first.
“It was definitely the highest score that I’ve ever gotten,” said MacLennan, noting it was a point higher than anything she has ever scored. “It’s one of the highest scores that I’ve ever seen for women.”
Cockburn instantly embraced MacLennan as the Chinese competitors had still to compete.
“She said ‘you’re going to win, that’s going to take it.’,” recollected MacLennan. “And we hoped that her score would be strong enough to hold on too. She hugged me and was so proud.”
Huang’s routine put her in second, and then as it appeared He could skyrocket into first, the reigning Olympic champ buckled on her very last element, toppling to her bottom and then bounced back up. The two Canadians excitedly hugged, certain that blunder would boot He off the podium and give Cockburn bronze.
But He’s score was still good enough for the podium, even after she was deducted for the tumble. He, through tears, told media through a translator that had she not fallen, she believes she would have beat MacLennan.
“[He’s] routine was good, but I didn’t think it was that good with the deduction. I thought she would be below my score but she was 0.1 above. It is not that much of a deduction as if you were to fall during the routine,” said a red-eyed Cockburn. “It was really disappointing but obviously I am really happy for Rosie, it is a good day for Canada to win a gold medal but I am disappointed too.”
Cockburn would have been the first trampolinist to earn a medal in four Olympics after earning bronze as one of the pioneering athletes when the sport made its Olympic debut at the 2000 Sydney Games, then silver in both Athens and Beijing.
She began as a sort of mentor for MacLennan as a young trampolinist, and over the years the two began to push each other in competitions and became close friends, MacLennan even being a bridesmaid in Cockburn’s wedding. Just four years ago, MacLennan finished 7th in Beijing and watched Cockburn take silver.
The likeable and even-keeled MacLennan stood Saturday with the gold medal around her neck, still digesting the events as she spoke with reporters. She was still stunned a Chinese trampolinist had fallen, still realizing she was Canada’s first to win gold at these Games, and not yet ready to think about training for another Olympics without Cockburn, who called London her last.
“I’m just so proud and excited,” said MacLennan. “It’s a bit surreal.”