Canada has daredevil in men's trampoline final
Armed with the distinct title of having performed the most difficult trick in trampoline history, Canada's 21-year-old "daredevil" Jason Burnett will give it his all in the Beijing Olympic finals Tuesday at 8:15 a.m. ET.
"Burnett is known as a daredevil and can compete some of the highest difficulty," said CBC analyst Lori Strong-Ballard, noting that to make his mark in Beijing, he must also be consistent.
Going where no man has gone before is what drives the Etobicoke, Ont., native.
"You have to be willing to try new things, to push the envelope," he said.
Burnett's longtime teammate Karen Cockburn, a three-time Olympic medallist, said its Burnett's attitude that makes him so exceptional.
Like he has no fear
"He's not afraid of anything," she said, explaining that at practice it's not uncommon to look up and find Burnett hanging from the rafters. "Oh yea, he'll just keep jumping until he can reach it and grab on. It's crazy, it's like he has no fear."
One of the tricks that has propelled Burnett's name to world-wide recognition is the Rudy Out Triffis, which is a triple front with a one and a half twist. He only began competing it this year.
"That I'm the best at one aspect in this sport is amazing," he said, referring to his degree of difficulty record. "So, I know I have all the skills and once I put the form to it, which is coming, means it's definitely possible to win a medal at the Olympics," he said earlier this year.
Burnett is a three-time national champion in Canada, and secured his Olympic berth at a World Cup final in France in early June. He tied for seventh place out of eight in Beijing's qualifying round. (The slate is wiped clean for the finals.)
The five-foot eight, 155-pound Seneca College graphic design student offers an impressive resume. In addition to holding the degree of difficulty world record, Burnett is a World Cup winner in the synchronized event, a silver medal winner in men's individual at the 2007 Pan Am Games, and he came 11th at the 2007 world championships.
To calm himself before competition, Burnett employs a specific mental strategy -confronting the judges in the same sense that he attacks his routines.
Stare down judges
"Usually, right before my turn, I'll watch the judges to see who's up there. They're the scariest part of the competition, you know, five suits sitting there getting ready to watch us…So I try to see them and just sort of stare them down," he said. "I used to try and avoid them, but there's no way you can do that, because before you do your routine, you have to turn and face them. That's when my heart would start racing, so now, I just face them beforehand."
Impressing the judges will be only one aspect of the challenge before him. The other will be to conquer the slew of talented competitors vying against him.
Strong-Ballard said that as in many Olympic sports this year, China will extend a strong showing - likely taking two-thirds of the hardware.
"China has solidified itself as the new powerhouse in trampoline, which is huge, since it's traditionally dominated by European nations," she said, noting Chinese athletes won half the individual medals at the 2007 world championships, with the men finishing first and second. "China is so deep with talent that they have about a half dozen male athletes who could win medals, but a country can send a maximum of only two athletes," she added.
China rich in talent
It seems the Olympics are following the form taken at the world championships. China's two competitors, Lu Chunlong and Dong Dong, came first and second in the qualifying round. Between the two of them, they won eight gold medals in 2007/2008 World Cup events. Burnett isn't the only one looking to knock them off.
Japan's Tetsuya Sotomura was fourth at the 2007 world championships and came third at the same event in 2005. His most recent World Cup standings have been successful and consistent, though mainly in the synchronized contest (not an Olympic event).
Henrik Stehlik of Germany came fifth at the 2007 world championships with a high degree of difficulty. He won bronze at the Athens Olympics four years ago, and was first in qualifying for the final. He also came fifth at the 2005 world championships and took gold in 2003.
Ukraine's Yuriy Nikitin won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics and is in a strong position to take the podium again. Nikitin came first at five World Cup events this season.
Another challenger is Russia's Alexander Rusakov, though Strong-Ballard said he could be past his prime. Rusakov came fifth both in Sydney and Athens and placed third at a recent World Cup event.
Russia's Dimitry Ushakov came eighth at the 2007 world championships and won a World Cup in March of this year. Strong-Ballard said he could be starting to peak and create some surprising results in Beijing.
Also competing is Mikalai Kazak of Belarus who has posted considerable success in the synchronized competition at World Cup events this year.