TOKYO — You’re probably sick of this word. You know, pandemic and all.
But a Canadian athlete three-peating as the winner of an individual event at the Olympics? If Rosie MacLennan can pull that off, it would indeed be … wait for it … unprecedented.
MacLennan, in fact, made history by successfully defending her trampoline title in Rio in 2016, becoming the first Canadian to go back-to-back in the same solo showdown at the Summer Games. (Among winter sport athletes, only speedskating star Catriona Le May Doan and moguls maestro Alexandre Bilodeau can make that same claim.)
She’s now in Tokyo with a shot at the hat trick.
“It’s something that is obviously talked about but for me, it’s not something that comes to the front of my mind,” MacLennan insisted after her final prep for Friday’s competition. “I’m one of 16 girls who is going out with an opportunity to show what we’re capable of. There are a lot of really strong girls in this competition, and I’m just really honoured and excited to be one of them.
“I’m going to focus on one routine at a time and really try to pay attention to the tangible things that I can do to make the routines as good as possible, but you never know what is going to happen on the day of. I’m just grateful for the chance to try.”
“Grateful” is a word that MacLennan, now a four-time Olympian, uses often.
Sure, the 32-year-old from King City, Ont., wants to win — she has, by the way, scrapped the idea of trying three front-triple somersaults in the same routine — but this is hardly a case of only-gold-is-good-enough.
“There are only 16 athletes — 16 women, 16 men — that get to compete, so even getting here is really tough and really challenging and in many ways, a lot has to go right,” she stressed. “Like the other Games that I’ve had the opportunity to compete at, I’m really grateful for the opportunity to just represent Canada in a sport that I love and be one of the 16 women that gets the opportunity to show the world what we’re capable of and what we have been working on.”
MacLennan certainly showed off in both London and Rio, continuing Canada’s impressive legacy in this high-flying portion of the Olympic gymnastics program. Karen Cockburn was a three-time trampoline medallist — two silver and a bronze — before Rosie’s rise to stardom.
Vancouver’s Samantha Smith, 29, is also competing in Tokyo. While she was an alternate at the 2012 Summer Games, this will mark her official debut on this big stage.
“Rosie, she means so much, both in what she’s been able to accomplish athletically but also who she is as a person — and I think that helps her athletically,” said Smith, who is originally from Toronto and considers herself fortunate to have trained alongside both MacLennan and Cockburn. “She’s really, really supportive as a team member so she exceeds in sport but she also pushes the rest of us to succeed, as well. She’s always there to give advice and support and just offer everything that she can. She’s a really, really wonderful example that we’re happy to have.”
MacLennan was an important piece of a larger team when the pandemic hit.
As vice-chair of the Athletes Commission, the trampoline ace was heavily involved in the talks that led to the Canadian Olympic Commtitee announcing it wouldn’t send a delegation to Tokyo in 2020 if the Olympics were not postponed.
She didn’t put the three-peat first then.
“Like so many around the world, I was just watching and seeing what was happening and the impact it was having abroad but also in Canada, in my community,” MacLennan said. “And so I think it became very clear that there really only was one right choice and as things started shutting down, it became clear that as a country, we had to prioritize the health of our communities and the health and safety of our athletes and their families, and I’m really proud of the decision that we made.
“But I’m also really, really grateful that the IOC and Tokyo were able to postpone it a year and still give athletes the chance to show the world what we have worked on for the past year.”
Smith, too, is anxious for that opportunity.
“It’s really exciting, especially because the qualification process was really tough and it happened in this arena in 2019,” she said after her last training session at Ariake Gymnastics Centre. “It’s been a lot of anticipation, so now I’m just happy to be here and I’m really excited to compete.”