X-treme; In-flight entertainment
Saturday 12 December 1998
After dabbling in gymnastics and diving, Theo got the chance to try out a trampoline at secondary school. He never looked back - or down, for that matter.
Some say trampolining was invented by Eskimos, who used sheets of walrus skins to toss each other up into the air. Whatever the truth, it's an exhilarating sensation.
"I could fly, do somersaults and cheat gravity for a few seconds. I loved it straight away," recalls Theo. "My coach spotted me at a local sports centre attempting manoeuvres that I didn't really have the technique to pull off. But after about a year and a half I made the British Youth Team."
Trampolining appeals to people of all ages and both sexes. It also allows individuals with physical disabilities to enjoy the exhilaration of jumping, falling and rebounding without injury.
As an officially recognised physical-education activity, trampolining is available to many schoolchildren, but individuals who choose to compete wouldn't describe the experience as "recreational".
Competition trampolining is a sport that combines the precision movements of gymnastics with the aerial awareness of a trapeze artist. Add the power of a sprinter, and you begin to get the idea.
Competitions are divided into several formats, including team events, synchronised trampolining and individual "expression" routines.
Considering the formidable amount of training required to be a top competitor, trampolining performances do not last very long: a 10-bounce routine will last a mere 20 seconds.
The sport leaves little room for error. Landing anywhere other than the central area of the apparatus can send you off line and into trouble. Competition trampolines measure about 6ft by 12ft, though even this size seems small in relation to the 30ft that top competitors reach when performing multiple twisting triples.
"You need to be reasonably flexible and to have good spatial awareness so you know where you are when you're in mid air," says Theo. "Our training is similar to that of a sprinter, as we train quite explosively. We do a lot of cross-training, whether in the gym or in a swimming pool. Technically, it's one of the most difficult sports in the world."
Shortly after Theo began trampolining, his brother passed away, resulting in him spending increasing amounts of time on the sport. "I really threw myself into it," he says.
Soon, he was competing at an international youth level, and a mere four years after taking up the sport he'd become a full adult international. In addition to numerous British titles, Theo's honours include a seventh-placed finish in the European Championships and an eighth-place finish in the 1994 World Championships.
"For me, trampolining at a high level was very liberating," he says. "When you get it all just right and things work well, it's a great feeling, whether you're attempting a triple somersault or a basic manoeuvre. When you land just right you know instantly, and when you get it wrong... you also know straight away.
"You train to the extent that your routine becomes second nature. When competing, you want it to become almost automatic, because you don't want to think about it too much while performing.
"You have to deal with so many things at once. You're over 20ft in the air and you have to deal with travel, rebound from the trampoline and executing a manoeuvre as well as an element of danger."
It seems that danger holds an irresistible appeal for Theo. Now aged 29, he has retired from competition to concentrate his efforts on his new job as a stuntman.
The pay is definitely better, and, more importantly, he has vastly improved his chances of becoming a movie superhero.
Meanwhile, he still considers trampolining to be the perfect sport for anyone seeking to combine fitness with excitement.
"If you want kids to take up an activity that provides a basis for any sport, then trampolining is perfect because it's all about timing, spatial awareness, fitness and fun.
For more information, contact the British Trampolining Federation (0181- 863 7278)
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