Trampoline becomes an official medal sport next month at the Athens Olympics after being an exhibition, test-only sport four years ago in Sydney. And American trampoline star Jennifer Parilla is looking to win an Olympic medal. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer has more in this report written by Julie Goldberg.
Jennifer Parilla has been bouncing and jumping since she was a child. Her parents enrolled her in gymnastics because she would race through the house and use a mini-trampoline to flip onto the sofa. When Parilla was five-years old her parents gave her trampoline lessons for a birthday present.
At the age of seven, she competed at her first national competition. Two-years later, she traveled to Germany to compete in her first age-group world championship. At 13 she won an age group title at the 1994 World Championship in the team double-mini event.
In 1996, Parilla became the first American in 23 years to finish in the top 10 in an individual trampoline event at senior worlds, placing seventh.
Parilla won her first individual national trampoline title in 1998. Since then she has won four more national championships. She has also won national championships in the double mini-trampoline and synchronized trampoline, which are not Olympic events.
The California native parted with longtime coach Robert Null and named her personal trainer and former men's artistic gymnast Mihai Bagiu her coach in 2002. Parilla then traveled to Idaho, Sydney, and Germany to work with Russian coaches Oleg Fedozov and Nikolai Zhuravlev, and fellow competitor Anna Doganadze.
In 2003 Parilla's boyfriend and personal trainer Lionel Rangel became her full-time coach. She currently trains at the National Gymnastics Training Center in (Aliso Vieja,) California.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Jennifer finished ninth out of 12 competitors in preliminary competition, just missing a shot at the finals. Under her new coach, Parilla has high hopes for her second trip to the Olympics.
"I believe I will definitely bring home some color of a medal. That is my goal," she says.
She knows to achieve her goal, she is going to face some tough competition.
"In Athens, I am definitely expecting the Russian girls, China, Germany and Canada to be competing very well. And that is my biggest competition, as of now, internationally," she notes.
In trampoline, athletes perform 10 skills in a row. Parilla says performing one difficult skill after another is the most exciting part of the sport. To cope with the pressures of competition, she pretends she is doing a show. If she still feels pressure, Parilla tells herself "hey I love this sport."
When she is not training, Parilla is taking classes at Orange Coast College and working as a personal trainer.
Competing in her first Olympic games had a major impact on Parilla's life. She even got a butterfly tattoo to show her transition from athlete to Olympian.
"I have had that since I was 18. It stands for new beginnings and it was kind of the crossover time of my life from being an athlete to qualifying to the Olympics and being a true Olympic athlete and devoting my entire life to it," she explains.
Jennifer Parilla hopes these Olympics have a bigger impact on her life, that is, to go through life as an Olympic medalist.