Steven Gluckstein Bouncing High to Reach Olympic Gold
For this trampoline athlete, 18 seconds of flight has brought him to the London Games in hopes of the top prize.
This is not your backyard trampoline.
For Steven Gluckstein, 22, of Atlantic Highlands, earning his way to the single spot on the US Men's Olympic Trampoline Team is the culmination 13 years of discipline, training and focus, a dream come true. No stranger to elite competion, he's four-time U.S. Trampoline Champion (2007, 2009-10, 2012), 2012 U.S. Synchro Silver Medalist, and four-time U.S. Synchro Champion (2007-2010).
Gluckstein's home away from home is Elite Trampoline Academy, 549 Route 35 Middletown, where he trains under coach Tatiana Kovaleva, herself a World Champion multiple times over. Kovaleva has had Gluckstein on a strict training regimen, with twice daily workouts, 6 days a week, for a total of about 30 hours per week. For an athlete who keeps scrupulous notes on each jump he makes in marble bound notebooks, the rigorous training schedule is just all part of being a top athlete and the thrill of going to the Olympics.
"As far as my mental game, I'm just purely excited," he says with his characteristic smile, "there's not a worry in my mind. I know all the hard work of the last 13 years now is all going to pay off, but right now it's just pure excitement."
On his one day off he tries to rest and recover, despite the piled up chores that need attention.
"I've been busy all week, so I have 24 hours on Sunday to get everything done," he says, "Get my oil changed, do my laundry, cook my meals for the week and prepare."
When not training for the Olympics, he likes to sky dive and long board in the hills of Atlantic Highlands.
"I like flight and speed no matter what I'm doing."
Trampolining as a competitive Olympic sport was introduced in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, with athletes performing the acrobatics of gymnasts in complex combinations of forward or backward somersaults and twists.
His routine for the London Games lasts about 20 or 21 seconds. Competitors aren't timed when making contact with the trampoline bed, only when in the air. For Gluckstein that means that Olympic gold hangs on about 18 seconds of flight.
"For 10 skills, you spend about 2.6 or 2.7 seconds in the trampoline, the rest is in the air," he calculates.
Each athlete must complete two routines. A compulsory, which is the relatively easier one meant to showcase height, elegance, and form, and the optional routine, where you pull out all the stops with 10 consecutive skills, your most difficult ones. There are no breaks in the action, no jumps in between, and no do-overs.
And while judges look more at what the athletes do in the air than on the trampoline, a wonky landing effects your next skill, and needs split-second compensation or you'll "fly to the springs" as Steven puts it.
Gluckstein's most difficult skill in his optional routine is the Miller Plus. It's a quadruple twisting double back straight, which means an improbable 1,440 degrees of twisting -- 30 ft. in the air -- and landing right back onto the center X at a perfect zero degree angle.
But for all of the pressure that naturally comes with representing your country in Olympic competition, Gluckstein still manages to enjoy the moment.
"No worries, no nerves, I'm just ready to rock and show off and prove what I can do," he says with a big smile.
Elite Trampoline Academy is a fully equipped training facility with 9 trampolines devoted to bringing the highest level of the world's most exciting Olympic sport. Their mission is to produce Olympic level trampoline gymnasts in a state-of-the-art training facility. Along with their internationally recognized competitive team, the Ultra Twisters, they offer recreational trampoline lessons for children of all ages and adults.