WALLACE: It's almost like it's in my blood
Our first and only Trampoline Olympic medallist, Ji Wallace, spoke with Gymnastics Australia (GA) and enjoyed reflecting on his fantastic career.
A moment that will always stand out for Wallace was when Trampoline was taken under the Gymnastics umbrella.
For all the athletes involved in Trampoline, it made them realise that competing at the Olympics was now possible.
“That wasn’t just a personal moment but a super moment for our entire sport,” Wallace said.
“It opened up the possibility of actually getting to the Olympics, going through the process to qualify, being a part of the team and doing all those things we had seen our Olympic heroes go through.”
The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney was always going to be special for Trampoline as it was the debut Olympics for the sport and was on home soil.
The exciting news that Trampoline was going to be involved at the Olympics came in 1998 which only gave the aspiring gymnasts at the time two years to get themselves into gear and prepare for what was to come.
“It went from being a minor sport into the big leagues and then Gymnastics Australia hired an international coach who at the time was the premier coach around the world,” Wallace said.
“We didn’t realise what he was bringing to the table, so as an athlete it was an absolute shock to learn what it took to take that step further."
At the beginning, just five athletes were selected for the Olympic Training Squad and the newly appointed coach spent his time between three states for the athletes. For Wallace, he was the only one willing to risk it all and make the move across the state to have more access to the premier coach.
“You wouldn’t hear of it today but I packed up my stuff and my parents drove me to Jackie Cully's house where I stayed in her garage,” Wallace said.
“I left my coach back home who was the person who noticed me from Junior Level and that I had potential.
“It was tough because I needed to train and to be able to get there, I didn’t have a job, I didn’t have my family, I didn’t have anything but I was welcomed into the Central Coast Trampoline family and that’s where the journey began.”
The 1999 World Championships was the next major event that Wallace and his team were facing. After the intense competition it was decided Wallace’s coach would spend more time in Queensland with Wallace as he was highest qualifying Australian athlete.
This meant that Wallace undertook the rigors of training ten times a week that he was never used too but he was prepared to do whatever he could to get to the Olympics.
“My mum has always said to me, when I was three and watching the Moscow Olympics in 1980 that I had been mesmerised by the Olympics and since then I always wanted to go to the Olympics,” Wallace said.
“Right here was my opportunity so I was going to take anything and everything that anybody threw at me and do it.”
As for the Games themselves, one thing was on Wallace’s mind and that was gold.
“My coach and I said to each other, we were going for gold. We were training for gold, we were jumping for gold and we were aiming for gold.
The night Wallace competed was one to remember for the crowd that may not have been their first choice in sport to experience yet they got to witness history for Australian gymnastics.
“To this day, people still say to me that was one of the best nights of their life and they were that person who wanted to go a different sport but ended up with Trampoline,” Wallace said.
“The fact that they got to witness this little Aussie that nobody knew jumping in a bright yellow leotard and was in the Gold medal position on the big screen with one jumper left.
“The stadium of 14,000 people were jumping up and down for a 23 year old who they had no clue about that was in that position.
"The crowd was going bananas and it was a pretty spectacular way to introduce Trampoline to the Olympic family.”
Wallace is friends with the Nissen family; in particular he spoke to George Nissen who Wallace said was the modern Mr Trampoline back in the 1950’s.
“George told his daughter he was there (2000 Olympics) and that was his proudest moment, the sport he introduced and ultimately invented got such a spectacular introduction to the international spotlight.”
The first seven days of the 2000 Olympics for Wallace were spent training and preparing to compete. The next eight days after competition was spent as his superstar Olympic moment after he had claimed the Silver medal in the Men's competition and received Australia's first Trampoline Olympic medal.
“I don’t know if this is just me but I don’t think that will happen again because it was our debut and it was such an unknown in Sydney for us and I think that’s what makes it special, especially in my mind.
Trampoline has a rich history of success and Wallace’s success is a continuation on of people that were before him.
“That moment stands on the shoulders of so many other great Australian Trampoline athletes that have been involved in the sport for so long.”
Looking towards the future of Trampoline, Wallace understands the importance of seeing the sport evolve to stay in the Olympics.
“Trampoline took a giant step at the Sydney Olympics and it needed to keep making giant steps, then of course came all the new rules and has been able to keep moving forward.
“That’s exciting for me because I am dipping my toe back into coaching pool and to see my sport as I knew it and as it is now.”
No matter what life has thrown at Wallace, there was always something in Trampoline that has brought him back.
“I’ve always been proud to be part of the Trampoline program, I’ve done a number of different things since I stopped trampoline but there’s something in it that has brought me back," Wallace said.
“It’s almost like it’s in my blood, as it is in most people who have dedicated their lives to sport.
“It’s always going to be a special part of me and it’s going to be my way of giving back to the sport that has given me so much.”