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Olympic-bound Rosie MacLennan jumps back into routine

by Vicki Hall, Postmedia Network
May 3, 2016

Always one to focus on the positive, Rosie MacLennan is downplaying the concussion symptoms that lingered for seven trying months -- cutting into her training for the Rio Olympics and forcing her to downgrade the difficulty of her routines.

Sure, she suffered from dizzy spells in the air. And, yes, she struggled with spatial awareness -- which isn’t a good thing, considering she routinely soars 18 feet for a living as an Olympic gymnast in trampoline.

No big deal, MacLennan said. Nothing she couldn’t handle.

But suddenly, in the middle of March, MacLennan experienced what she calls “a really big breakthrough” in her recovery.

“I feel -- it sounds a little silly -- unleashed,” MacLennan said Tuesday from Toronto where she attended an event on behalf of Tide to help the next generation of Canadian athletes. “I’ve been held back for a really long time and felt limited for a really long time. I stopped feeling dizzy in the air, which is nice.”

MacLennan feeling more like herself is good news for the Canadian Olympic team, given her resume. The 27-year-old King City, Ont., native is the reigning Olympic and Pan Am Games champion. She is the only active female on the planet to land three triples in international competition -- a feat she pulled off at the 2014 world trampoline championships in Daytona Beach, Fla.

The concussion troubles began for MacLennan three weeks before the Pan Am Games when she over-rotated on a jump in training. She still won gold in Toronto despite dialing back the difficulty of her routine. She stuck to her conservative routine at the 2015 world championships in Denmark, where she finished fourth to secure an Olympic quota spot for Canada.

“Rosie is a smart athlete,” said Kyle Shewfelt, a 2004 Olympic gold medallist in artistic gymnastics and a CBC commentator. “She’s building her way back. She wants to peak at the Olympics. She knows what that looks and feels like. At last year’s world championships, she just had to qualify. She wasn’t looking to win. It’s strategy.”

MacLennan’s competition schedule will be light in the coming months, with the Canadian championships June 1-4 in Edmonton followed by two World Cups in Europe. Then comes the main event in Rio.

“The Chinese are really strong now, and they always are,” Shewfelt said. “But Rosie, I think she does have a legitimate shot to podium. I expect her to be on the podium and being on that top pedestal is not out of the question.”

MacLennan could also end up leading the Canadian team into the opening ceremonies as the flag bearer. Her gold medal in London makes her an obvious candidate along with swimmer Ryan Cochrane, equestrian Ian Millar, high jumper Derek Drouin and kayaker Mark de Jonge.

“If you look at the credentials of past flag bearers, I think Rosie really fits the mold perfectly,” Shewfelt said. It’s just a natural choice. This is her third Olympic Games. She’s the only Canadian to win a medal at the London Games. She competes late in the Games, and she’s an amazing ambassador for sport.”

She’s also healthy, which makes her a legitimate threat to win a second Olympic title.

“There’s lots of deserving athletes out there,” MacLennan said bashfully when asked about the possibility of carrying the flag for Canada. “It’s definitely something I would have to chat with my coach about to make sure it wouldn’t hinder any of my training. But it’s a huge honour to even be considered. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

For now, she’s focused on training — and, finally healthy, jumping to the best of her ability.

“I’m really having fun at training, and I think that’s the most important thing,” she said. “I’m loving going in every day and trying these new combinations of skills and trying to perfect my base routine. I’ve really found the joy in the sport again, and for me, that’s always been the most important thing.”