UPDATE: Pioneering Kiwi trampolinist Maddie Davidson has provisionally qualified a spot at the Tokyo Olympics after finishing fourth at the Aere World Cup in Italy. If selected to the New Zealand team, she’ll be our first female to compete in trampoline at the Olympics.
Read about Davidson’s demanding road to get there in this profile by Angela Walker.
It’s rare to see a basketballer who isn’t tall, or a sprinter who isn’t muscular. But surprisingly, trampolinists come in all shapes and sizes, according to top Kiwi trampolinist Maddie Davidson.
“When you line up trampolinists across the world, we all look entirely different,” she says. “Some are really thin and lean like greyhounds, others are strong and stocky.”
However, there’s one thing, she says, all champion trampolinists have in common.
And that’s mindset.
“I truly think the psychological outweighs the physical in my sport,” the 22-year-old says. “If you’re not strong in your brain, in how you feel on the trampoline, then it’s not the right sport for you. You’ve got to be able to step over that fear of making mistakes, falling off, or landing on your head – which happens sometimes.
“We may all look different, but we are all super-strong in the mind; plus we’re all good at risk taking and problem solving.”
Having a strong mindset has been particularly useful for Davidson of late, spending the past year navigating the challenges of Olympic uncertainty.
In March 2020, she was tantalisingly close to becoming the first New Zealand female trampolinist to qualify for the Olympics. Her results from the most recent World Cup series had her sitting within the top 16 Olympic spots.
With only one World Cup qualifier to go (originally scheduled for April 2020) she was confident of securing herself a place at the Tokyo Olympics.
Instead, she found herself locked down, like everyone else, and unable to train or compete.
“I was sitting outside just scrolling through Facebook when I found out the Olympics had been postponed,” she says. “I just started bawling my eyes out. I was so close to going, I could almost touch it – and then it was so far away. It was almost like I couldn’t see it anymore.”
Davidson credits her sport psychologist Jason Yuill Proctor with helping her get through such a challenging period.
“My sport psych called me each week of lockdown to run through how I was feeling and make sure I was doing things like visualisation,” she says. “Since we are a spatial awareness sport, even a week off training feels like a month.”
When Davidson was finally able to return to her Olympia Gymnastic Sports Club in Christchurch, the lengthy break had taken its toll.
“Normal fitness-wise I had stayed much the same, but jumping-wise, my spatial awareness was all off and I’d get really dizzy,” she says.
Davidson’s coach, Alex Nilov – a former trampolinist from Kazakhstan – devised a plan to gradually build back her “trampoline fitness”. Then, with no competitions able to take place during the rest of 2020, they used the unexpected time to acquire difficult new moves.
“There is always a risk of injury when learning new skills,” Davidson explains. “But I managed to pick up four new skills last year. That type of growth doesn’t happen normally. It ended up being a good thing.”
Having previously mastered the notoriously difficult Triffus (a triple somersault with a half twist), Davidson turned her attention to the Half Triffus and was surprised how quickly she mastered it.
“I’d dreaded learning the Triffus because it was so hard, but since then it’s been fun learning new skills, and a lot easier too,” she says.
The Half Triffus is a backward skill not often done by female trampolinists. Fortunately, Davidson isn’t averse to taking inspiration from her male counterparts.
“I saw the boys doing the Half Triffus and thought, if the boys can do it, I can do it. It’s been really cool to add it into my repertoire,” she says.
One trampolinist that particularly inspires Davidson is Dylan Schmidt. At Rio 2016, he became the first New Zealander to contest Olympic trampolining, finishing an admirable seventh in the men’s individual competition.
“Dylan Schmidt is trailblazing for New Zealand trampolining,” Davidson says. “He has been a role model for me. It’s a hard sport when people don’t know your country, but with Dylan doing so well, it trickles down. He’s really helping us push through as well.”
Like Davidson, Schmidt is currently preparing for Tokyo. Both Olympic hopefuls must endure a lengthy wait for the Tokyo spots to be confirmed.
The final international qualification event – originally scheduled to take place in Covid-ravaged Italy in 2020 – was postponed to April 2021, and then postponed again until June. If it does finally take place, the Olympic qualifying places won’t be announced until late June, less than a month before the Tokyo Games commence.
But Davidson is unfazed: “It’s going to be really late, but I guess everything has been a waiting game for the past year or so.”
Yuill Proctor has noticed that Davidson shares many of the traits that Olympic medallists have, including adaptability.
“With a growth mindset, Maddie is good at adapting to novel and unpredictable situations and has shown courage facing challenging situations in pursuit of her goals whilst honing her skills under pressure,” he says.
Davidson has worked closely with Yuill Proctor since she was 13, and says he has played a key role in getting her to where she is. “He’s done absolute wonders for me,” she enthuses.
With little funding for trampolining in New Zealand, Davidson is especially grateful to her support network, many helping on a voluntary basis.
“People stick their hands up and say ‘Yeah we’ll help you’ which is just so great. That’s what I love about New Zealanders. My club gave me a scholarship. They have been really supportive throughout my whole career. And my PT, sports masseuse, and bosses at work are all unbelievably supportive too,” she says.
Along with “many years of really hard work”, Davidson cites her love of trampolining as the secret to her success.
“I’ve never lost my passion for the 15 years I’ve been doing the sport,” she says. “I’ve never not wanted to do trampolining.”
After Davidson won two medals at the 2017 world age group champs, she committed to serious training and an international career. But she’s adamant that she loved it well before she met with success.
“It was easier to commit to trampolining knowing the love for it was there before I was good at it,” she says.
Now training full-time, she hasn’t looked back, finishing 13th at the last world championships, and 10th at a 2019 World Cup event in Khabarovsk, Russia.
Davidson says one of the things she especially loves about trampolining is the unpredictable nature of a competition.
“If you watch Olympic sprinting, you know Usain Bolt is going to win. But with trampolining, it is seriously anyone’s game. It depends on how things fall on the day, the angles you land on the trampoline. It can be so touch and go. You never know who is going to win.”
Which means that Davidson may not only become the first New Zealand woman to compete in Olympic trampolining, but also has every chance of succeeding.
At 22, Davidson will be the youngest competitor in her event by quite some margin. Trampolinists typically peak in their late 20s or 30s. Accordingly, her sights are set on attending multiple Olympics.
If she achieves her history-making dream of competing in Tokyo, Davidson is likely to inspire the next generation of Kiwi trampolinists.
When they watch Davidson and her competitors spring high into the air, they will get to see that Olympians come in different shapes and sizes – and that females can do it too.