Tips and advice from those who know
The 1957 NCAA and ’58 AAU trampoline champion,
Wilson is a former gymnast, collegiate coach and club
owner in both artistic gymnastics and trampoline. He and
his wife, Susan, who was the Gymnastics Director for the
1984 Olympics, currently run Bounce California in San
Diego. IG Editor Dwight Normile recently bounced some
questions off Wilson, and here’s what he had to say.
The U.S. men and women dominated the trampoline world
championships when they started in the 1960s. Now the
Americans aren’t much of a factor in the Olympics. What
happened? In 1969 the colleges dropped trampoline from the
program in an effort to concentrate on the artistic events. The
NCAA rules committee believed the U.S. had to catch up with the
other countries, and that trampoline and other events popular at
that time were taking time away from the all-around. Only the aficionados stayed in training. The high schools eventually followed
the lead of the universities. From 1970 through 1997, only the
special clubs and a few devoted coaches developed trampolinists.
Before you had your own
trampoline gym, you had
gyms for artistic gymnastics.
What have been the main differences, from a gym owners’
perspective? Is one easier to
run than the other? My wife
and I had artistic gymnastics
gyms from 1973 to ’98, and we
always had a trampoline. The
trampoline was for teaching
somersaulting. When I read on the Internet that trampoline would
be an official event for the 2000 Olympics, I jumped back into
competitive trampolining. The business is the same; only the activities are different. The step-by-step approach we used in artistic
was ingrained in both of us, and we attacked the skills the same
way. It has been very satisfying.
Do you think kids have more fun at a trampoline gym compared with an artistic gymnastics club, because they basically bounce on most every piece of equipment? Our athletes
almost always leave with a grin on their faces. I didn’t realize how
important that was at first, and parents like it a lot. Artistic gymnastics has become so tough, with beginners working out 24 to 30
hours a week, that a lot of the fun has been taken away. You can’t
concentrate on flying that long, so it would be unsafe to train
trampolinists on that schedule. So, it is a combination of shorter
practices and the inherent fun of trampoline.
What will it take for the U.S. to become medal contenders at
the Olympics? The U.S. needs to pursue its current course with
the grassroots program. Currently, some of its junior athletes are
contenders, and when they mature they might break through to
the medals. The development of coaches is extremely important.
The coaches from strong programs in Europe are still dominating
our national meets, but I think we are learning and I see young
coaches with technical expertise and desire.
Trampoline judging has never allowed competitors to get
away with poor form or bad technique. What can artistic
gymnastics learn from trampoline in that regard?
Trampolining describes the positions used precisely and simply. If you
bend your legs when unintended there is a deduction no matter the
difficulty of the skill or the reputation of the athlete. Also, the
score is weighted heavily toward the execution. Trampolining uses
three execution scores and one for difficulty. It is possible to win
by perfect execution. Artistic gymnastics could—and probably
should—give more weight to execution. Difficulty will always be a
factor, but it should not overwhelm execution.
Has the strict execution judging kept the sport safer? Maybe,
but the rules about staying on the bed, not traveling, and landing
on both feet are more responsible for the safety. Sometimes the
rules seem a little cold, but they keep the idiots under control.
How much extra space would an artistic gym club need in
order to add a competitive trampoline program? Four trampolines can be set on a 64-by-32-foot area, with all the safety areas
How do you respond to critics who say trampoline should be
in the circus and not in the Olympics? I haven’t heard that in a
very long time. It is in the circus, but the real trampolinists are in
the Olympics. Have you been to a Cirque du Soleil show lately?
The athletes are all former gymnasts, tumblers and trampolinists.
Is there an ideal body type for a trampolinist? I was short and
successful, but some others have been larger and more successful.
I think speed of movement and the ability to relocate are more
important. Generally, the trampolinists seem a little taller than
artistic athletes, but the qualities that make them good are the
What attracted you to trampolining as a kid, and what are its
benefits? I got lucky. I had an uncle, Larry Griswold, who was a
pioneer in the development of the trampoline device and the competitive sport. When I was 11 he gave me one of his old trampolines for the back yard and a book on the fundamentals. I’ve never