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Rosie MacLennan: gold medal trampolinist at the 2012 Olympics

Rosannagh MacLennan at the London 2012 Olympic Games (photo by Mike Ridewood, courtesy of the Canadian Olympic Committee)

U of T graduate Rosie MacLennan became the first Canadian to win a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics on Saturday – cheered on by throngs of supporters across the university and around the world.

“I was really thrilled – she did a perfect performance,” said U of T alumnus Norman Lane, who watched from his home in Hamilton, Ontario.

The 92-year-old Lane shares a unique bond with the 23-year-old MacLennan:  both are U of T alumni who medalled in the Olympics in London – with Lane bringing home a bronze in canoeing in 1948.

“It wasn’t considered to be very interesting back then – I think there was a little piece in the paper about two inches long,” Lane said. “They’re more interested in it now.”

In fact, the riveting performance that won MacLennan a personal best score of 57.305 along with the gold medal even elicited a private phone call from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a public statement praising her accomplishment.

“Through her hard work, dedication and sportsmanship, Rosie has proudly represented Canada on the world stage,” Harper said.

MacLennan, who graduated from the University of Toronto with a bachelor's degree in Physical Health Education in November, shortly after winning gold in trampoline at the Pan Am Games, is set to return to U of T this fall to begin pursuing her master’s degree.

Despite all the attention, MacLennan managed to update her blog, where she described what it was like to give that final, golden performance after the qualifying rounds.

 “The routine itself is a bit of a blur but after landing and seeing the smile on my coach’s face, I knew it was good and it felt good," said MacLennan. " Sitting and waiting for your score seems like such a long time but when it finally came up, I honestly couldn’t believe it! I had never broken the 57 mark in my life!"

MacLennan also talked about the medal ceremony.

“Competing my final routine was a highlight because that’s the moment I was doing what I loved and was really in the zone but I have never felt so proud to stand on top of the podium, watching the flag raise and hearing the anthem play. I will never forget that moment or all the people that helped me get there.”

One of those people who helped MacLennan reach the podium is her friend and former training partner, PhD candidate Sarah Gairdner. A former world champion in double mini trampoline, Gairdner retired from competition in 2008.

Despite the demands of instant fame, MacLennan was able to return Gairdner’s calls later that day.

“It was about one in the morning in England and she was just getting back to her place, and we had a really nice chat,” Gairdner said. “It was funny because she’s an Olympic champion but she’s still just little Rosie who’s the sweetest, most wonderful person in the whole world. I don’t know what I expected but she sounded just the same, totally modest. She said ‘I talked to Stephen Harper on the telephone and my Twitter account has just exploded!’ She was just overwhelmed and excited.”

The pair continue to text each other, with Gairdner kidding MacLennan about her new-found celebrity.

“You know you’re famous when Justin Bieber tweets about you,” Gairdner said. “But Rosie’s also a really great student and a humanitarian and I know she’s very passionate about giving back. She’s got all these really great goals and I think having school on the horizon is important.

“For an athlete to have all that focus on the Olympics and then suddenly it’s over? That can be a real challenge. I know for me it was a lifesaver to have my graduate studies, to funnel your energy into a productive outlet.”

Lane echoed those sentiments. When he returned from London in 1948, he plunged into his graduate studies at U of T in mathematics – although he continued competing in canoe for many years.

MacLennan is wise to combine sport with graduate studies, he said.

“It was a diversion from the heavy thinking, the heavy research thinking,” said Lane, a former mathematics professor with McMaster University. “I used to think of mathematical problems as I was training.”

Associate Professor Margaret MacNeill of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, taught MacLennan as an undergraduate and is looking forward to working with her on research for her MSc.

“You see her close her eyes, doing her visualization techniques, and controlling her breathing,” said MacNeill, who watched the event live and during the rebroadcast. “I think my heart rate was probably higher than hers because she has the skills to control it and bring it down!”

MacLennan is “a gifted athlete and a fabulous student, so it’s nice to see her achieve in everything that she’s doing,” said MacNeill, adding her experience in London may help inform her research into social responsibility and health promotion – including the potential for athletes to use their celebrity to promote active living and health.

MacLennan is already demonstrating that potential, said Professor Ira Jacobs, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, noting that MacLennan and Gairdner spearheaded a fundraising event for the new Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport earlier this year.

“We could not be more proud of Rosie,” Jacobs said. “Having the self-discipline and work ethic to meet the rigorous academic demands of a BPHE degree while training and competing to be among the best in her sport are amazing accomplishments.”

For her part, MacLennan is keen to share glory with her fellow athletes, a list that includes a number of U of T athletes. While some U of T athletes competed for other countries (swimmer Luke Hall for Swaziland, beach volleyball’s Elodie Li Yuk Lo for Mauritius and taekwondo’s Andrea St. Bernard for Grenada) the Canadian team includes U of T’s Sarah Wells (hurdles); Josh Binstock (men’s beach volleyball); Michael Braithwaite (rowing); Crispin Duenas (archery); Michelle Li (badminton) Colin Russell (swimming) and Donna Vakalis (modern pentathlon).

“I am honoured to be a part of the Canadian team with such amazing athletes and so thrilled I made my country proud,” MacLennan wrote in her blog. “Every athlete here representing Canada is someone to be tremendously proud of for their dedication, perseverance, hard work and relentless efforts!