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OLYMPICS HELENE ELLIOTT

Parilla Soars Far Above Trampoline's Low Profile

June 18, 2004|HELENE ELLIOTT

What trampoline needs is someone like Bela Karolyi to churn out champions and add some color, as the chatty Romanian coach did for artistic gymnastics in the U.S.

Until that charismatic figure arrives -- and sponsors follow -- trampoline will remain largely unknown, and athletes like Jennifer Parilla of Newport Beach will make do on a $200-a-month stipend from USA Gymnastics and $250 a month from a father who'd rather see her in college than bouncing around the world.

Parilla, who finished ninth at the Sydney Games, is an overwhelming favorite to win the only U.S. trampoline berth in Athens at Saturday's Olympic trials in San Jose.

The five-time U.S. champion's path hasn't been easy, though. After her ability exceeded the knowledge of U.S. coaches, she became her own coach, taping her routines with a camera attached to a tripod and studying them on a tiny playback monitor. She's also her own financier, because the U.S. federation pays her way to international competitions but not to national meets.

She briefly left Southern California to train in Pocatello, Idaho, and also trained in Bad Kreuzach, Germany, in a former U.S. military complex that had been converted to a sports center. All this for a sport that offers few riches and a limited future beyond coaching or performing in Cirque de Soleil.

Parilla, 23, is aware of the drawbacks. But they're eclipsed by the euphoria she feels when soaring as high as 30 feet above the 7x14-foot trampoline and nimbly performing difficult routines.

"Trampoline chose me," she said. "I didn't really choose it."

Parilla, who's taking a semester off from Orange Coast College, started in artistic gymnastics when she was 4. She switched to trampoline six months later and hasn't left, despite the sport's low profile.

"In 1972, they pulled trampoline out of colleges and the popularity of trampoline completely declined," she said during last month's Olympic Summit. "There were lawsuits and people were getting hurt. That's just America. In Europe, that didn't happen.... I'm educating people all the time. In a way, I feel a little special. I know I've always been unique and different. It's definitely my thing."

After years of scrambling for good coaching and training sites, she found stability working in Aliso Viejo with Coach Lionel Rangel.

"I am where I want to be and I am where I should be," she said.

The rhythmic gymnastics trials also will be held Saturday in San Jose. Mary Sanders, who has Canadian and U.S. citizenship but chose to compete for the U.S., is almost assured of winning the only Athens rhythmic berth. Among her challengers are Aline Bakchadijan of Woodland Hills and Alexandra Licona of Culver City.

En Garde!

Jason Rogers of Los Angeles had hoped that the U.S. men's sabre fencing team might win a medal at the Athens Games.

After he contributed to a triumphant performance at a World Cup competition in New York last week, he changed his mind.

"Now, it's yes, definitely we can win," Rogers said. "It's all about our dynamics and us reaching the same level as a team. There's nobody we can't beat.

"Technically, we are as good as any team. Mentally, we needed to mature, and I think we did last week."

Rogers, 21, teamed with Keeth Smart and Ivan Lee of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Timothy Morehouse of the Bronx to become the first U.S. men's sabre team to win a World Cup title. They upset top-seeded Russia and fourth-seeded France before defeating Spain in the final, 45-36.

The victory is especially significant because the sabre team will probably meet the same opponents at Athens. No U.S. men's fencing team has won an Olympic gold medal, and no U.S. fencer has won an individual Olympic medal since Peter Westbrook won bronze in men's sabre in 1984. Lee's individual bronze medal in the World Cup men's sabre event might be another good omen for Athens.

"We've always thought we could do this. Making it happen was something else, so we're pretty excited," said Rogers, who trained in Culver City before enrolling at Ohio State. "This was the strongest team event I can remember this year."

Rogers will skip competitions in Atlanta this weekend and Cuba next week to spend a few weeks at home, where he'll train at the L.A. International Fencing Center in West Los Angeles. He'll return to Columbus, Ohio, for more training before the U.S. team leaves for Athens July 27. The fencers will spend 10 days in Rome at a pre-Olympic camp.

"It's going to be a whirlwind," Rogers said, "but we're all just thrilled."

Here and There

Southern California Olympians, a nonprofit group that aims to smooth the path for Olympic hopefuls, this week gave grants totaling $2,500 to swimmer John Foster of Villa Park and former USC diver Kellie Brennan of Huntington Beach.

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