Olympic Trampoline Quest for Two Brothers
In 2008, Steven Gluckstein flubbed a trick in the U.S. Olympic trampoline finals, missing a trip to the Beijing Games.
Now, what stands between him and a trip to the London Games is another Gluckstein: his younger brother Jeffrey.
“I am not going to let my little brother beat me this year,” says Steven Gluckstein, 21 years old.
Counters Jeffrey Gluckstein, 19: “Hopefully my best is just a little better than his.”
They live together in their parents’ house in New Jersey and train together at a nearby gym, where they also work together overseeing trampoline birthday parties for kids to earn money.
But rarely mentioned amid this togetherness is their high-stakes battle. Imagine Eli and Peyton Manning squaring off in the Super Bowl, or Venus and Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final. Here, however, the winner becomes an Olympian—while the loser remains a guy who bounces on trampolines.
“We both want it, so there’s no sense in talking too much about it,” says Steven Gluckstein. With two competitions left to determine the male U.S. Olympic trampoline jumper, he leads his younger brother by a narrow six-tenths of a point.
So far, the family home has managed to accommodate two Olympic wannabes. “Fortunately we haven’t had the Jerry Springer-type moment within the household,” says their father, Steven Gluckstein Sr., a Wall Street money manager.
Trampolinists Steven and Jeffrey Gluckstein aren’t just brothers, they’re also head-to-head competitors for the one and only slot representing the U.S. at the summer Olympics. WSJ’s Matt Futterman reports.
Of course, there is a long tradition of siblings in the Olympics: The Williams sisters, gymnasts Paul and Morgan Hamm, skiers Phil and Steve Mahre. Some siblings are allies, such as U.S. rowing’s Winklevoss brothers. In Olympic ice-dancing routines, there are brother-and-sister pairs.
The Gluckstein brothers have tried to support each other through a rivalry they say pushes them both to outdo the other. Steven will often make Jeffrey breakfast, and Jeffrey will sometimes return the favor at dinner time. They spot each other in training, taking turns standing by the trampoline with a crash pad while the other practices. At home, they try to carve out their own space. They sleep in separate rooms on separate floors.
“Things can get pretty tense around here,” says Loretta Gluckstein, their mother.
Trampoline became an Olympic sport in 2000 and awards one gold medal for men and one for women. China won both gold medals in 2008. Russia, Ukraine and Germany have won gold in the other years. Canada has also done well.
America has won no medals in trampoline, even though the apparatus was invented during the 1930s in Iowa. Here, though, trampoline remains largely a backyard pastime akin to swinging on a swing set. There are only 5,900 registered members of the U.S.A. Gymnastics’ trampoline and tumbling division.
One measure of how much room the Americans have to improve in the event: The U.S. has never made the final round of competition in Olympic Trampoline. Its performances in recent world competitions merited only one spot in the Olympic Games this summer. China, by contrast, earned two because its athletes have performed so successfully.
Competitions call for trampoline jumpers, also known as gymnasts, to perform two routines. The first is a compulsory routine consisting of 10 different acrobatic flips, known as skills; the second involves 10 skills of the athlete’s choosing. The latter routine normally has a higher degree of difficulty. Judges grade competitors on execution, degree of difficulty and “flight time,” which is the duration of the routine—a reflection of how much time the gymnast has spent in the air.
The Gluckstein brothers entered the sport a dozen years ago, at the suggestion of their mother.
Early on, Steven’s tumbling abilities at the gym caught the attention of a Russian émigré named Tatiana Kovaleva, a former world trampoline champion who became his coach. Steven loved the feeling of floating toward the rafters, then squeezing off flips and twists. His little brother soon got hooked too.
Their performances haven’t always been in sync.
Steven won the U.S. championship in 2009 and 2010. In 2011, however, his performances began to slip as his younger brother climbed in the rankings.
Last June, Steven hit bottom, failing to make the podium at the national championships for the first time in his career. Jeffrey, meanwhile, won gold.
After vanquishing his older brother, Jeffrey slumped, losing his balance and falling at four events.
He recovered to deliver a clean routine in time for the initial Olympic qualifying meet in March. In the bid to make the Olympics, Jeffrey now ranks second behind his older brother.
Their styles are different. Steven looks and trains like a Marine, wearing a crew-cut and rising early each day to follow a strict regimen. In addition to jumping for three hours a day, Steven goes to a gym most nights to work with weights, do exercises to strengthen his core or swim sprints across the pool. He keeps meticulous notes of his practices. His sports psychologist urges him to take time off training, Steven says, but in order to aim for the Olympics, Steven put college on hold.
By contrast, Jeffrey is taking classes at a local community college. Invariably arriving late to practice, he works out with weights when he can find the time and files the required monthly log of his workouts to the sport’s national federation just before they are due.
By all accounts, Jeffrey is the more natural gymnast. He floats off the trampoline like a gazelle, twisting in the air with the fluidity of a ballet dancer. “He’s always had this catlike ability to find his balance in the air and to know exactly how to move his body, while Steven has had to work at it,” says their father.
Of his younger brother, Steven says, “I wish I had his God-given talent and his carefree attitude.”
Their mother wonders aloud whether Jeffrey is subconsciously deferring to an older sibling whose every waking moment is dedicated to making it to London. “Jeffrey would probably really shine if he trained as hard as Steven,” Ms. Gluckstein says.
But Jeffrey says his approach makes his performances more relaxed and his acrobatics more fluid.
The final trial competition to decide who will go to the Olympics will occur in June.
Ms. Gluckstein swears she doesn’t root for one son over the other. But, she adds, “Steven being older, I think this is his time. He’s worked so hard. Jeffrey, he’s young.”
“It’s going to be bittersweet,” their father says. “The best we can hope for is one makes the team and the other becomes the alternate.” Even then, he notes, only the winner would get to march in the Opening Ceremony and live in the Olympic village.
Write to Matthew Futterman at firstname.lastname@example.org
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