Trampoline's best bounce into Baku as World Cup season begins

For the world’s top trampoline gymnasts, the 2020 Olympic Games begin this weekend.

In 2015, in an attempt to spice up a world cup series with often lackluster attendance, the International Gymnastics Federation hit on an idea: tie Olympic qualification to the world cups, thereby forcing top contenders to attend. Results from the next six trampoline world cup events -- the four in 2019 and the first two of 2020 -- will be used to determine who qualifies for the Tokyo Olympics.

If the lineup for the first FIG Trampoline Gymnastics World Cup of 2019 this week in Baku, Azerbaijan, is any indication, the tactic has worked a treat. World and Olympic medalists abound on the Baku roster. With only four world cup events in Trampoline scheduled this year, each assumes an importance of Olympic proportions, so it’s no surprise to see the field in Baku stacked with talent and medals -- from last fall’s World Championships in St. Petersburg and well before.

Reigning Olympic champions Rosie MacLennan of Canada and Uladzislau Hancharou of Belarus are set to bounce for the women’s and men’s individual titles, but neither gold is likely to come easily. The men’s field includes 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and three-time world men’s gold medalist Gao Lei, 2012 Olympic champion Dong Dong and 2008 silver medalist and difficulty king Jason Burnett of Canada, 2014 world champion Tu Xiao of China and world medalists Andrey Yudin of Russia and Yasuhiro Ueyama of Japan.

2014 Youth Olympic Games champion Dylan Schmidt of New Zealand is back after recovering from a knee injury that kept him out of last year’s worlds, and 2014 Youth Olympic bronze medalist Pedro Ferreira is among an always strong Portuguese contingent. After a number of fourth place finishes on the world level, France’s Allan Morante will also be seeking a Baku breakthrough.

Hancharou himself, the undisputed best in the world from 2016 and 2017, will attempt to regain the top spot after a rough final left him just sixth in last year’s world standings. His wife, Belarus’s Hanna Hancharova, a Rio Olympian and top-10 competitor from the last Olympic cycle, will be in the hunt in the women’s competition.

MacLennan, 30, has been the undisputed queen of Trampoline since winning Canada’s only gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. After a neck injury sidelined her post-Rio, the 16-time world medalist literally bounced back at the end of 2018 to capture her second women’s individual crown at the world championships in Russia.

The pack chasing her has only grown in recent years, and now includes surprise 2016 Olympic silver medalist Bryony Page of Great Britain, Japan’s new synchro world champions Megu Uyama and Hikari Mori, 2014 Youth Olympic champion and reigning world silver medalist Zhu Xueying of China and 2018 world bronze medalist Yana Pavlova of Russia, without factoring in veterans Kat Driscoll of Great Britain and Marine Jurbert of France.