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Trampolines Join the Olympics - Trampolines Come of Age

At each Olympic Games, new sports are added to the list of competitions. One new sport to debut in Sydney, Australia, is trampolining. What is trampolining, and why is it just now being recognized as an international sport?

Trampolines got their name from a circus acrobat named Du Trampolin, who lived in the 1800s. He saw that trapeze safety nets could be turned into an independent propulsion device for stunts. Acrobats began to use the revised nets for performing multiple somersaults over rows of large animals, like horses and elephants.

In the early 1930s, American gymnast George Nissen developed a modern trampoline closely related to the present-day form. The U.S. Air Force and NASA have both used the trampolines in training pilots and astronauts respectively. Physical and occupational therapists have also found that trampolines can help rehabilitate patients with certain disabilities.

Trampolining as a sport began in the United States in the late 1940s. It spread to Europe a few years later. In 1964 the International Trampoline Federation (FIT) was formed with seven founding members. Today there are member federations from 42 countries. Trampolining gradually became less prominent in the United States due to safety concerns and a number of lawsuits filed by injured athletes. At the Sydney Olympics, the sport will be dominated by European and former Soviet Union countries.

Ruth Ravitz, head coach of the Misgav Ha-poal Gymnastics Team in Israel and an international gymnastics competition judge, says, "Trampolining is to gymnastics what diving is to swimming. The athletes are judged on the difficulty, execution, and form of their routines." With its debut at the Sydney Games, trampolining is likely to become a popular sport. The routines are often breathtaking and should play well on television.

In its inaugural year as an Olympic event, the women's
trampoline was won by Irina Karavaeva. AP