Local competitor gets plenty of air time
By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Brandon Masuoka
Since starting her sport four years ago, Hawai'i trampoline gymnast Nani Vercruyssen has progressed by leaps and bounds.
The 14-year-old Kaimuki Middle School eighth-grader gets another honor this week as one of eight gymnasts named to the U.S. Trampoline Team for the 2006 Pacific Alliance Championships in Honolulu.
"I'm just happy and really excited, especially to be in it," said Vercruyssen, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the U.S. junior elite rankings for trampoline, double-mini trampoline and synchronized trampoline.
The Pacific Alliance Championships is considered one of the world's premier international gymnastic events, drawing top athletes from Pacific Rim countries.
For the first time, trampoline will be held at the three-day competition. The Olympic sport combines the moves of artistic gymnastics and aerial stunts with a trampoline.
This is Vercruyssen's first international competition in her hometown. The well-traveled Vercruyssen has competed in Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belarus, Japan and Germany.
"She is used to going to Russia, and Europe and Asia, and everywhere else in the world," said her father and coach, Dr. Max Vercruyssen. "It's a great deal that she gets to compete here."
Although Vercruyssen will compete in her hometown, she won't necessarily be living at home this week in preparation for the event, her father said.
"When the U.S. team comes in, she will move into the hotel with them, and pretend like she's on the other side of the world," he said.
A gathering of friends, family, teammates and coaches will cheer Vercruyssen this week. Vercruyssen said she won't be nervous.
"I think I will be able to block it out and just focus on my routine," said Vercruyssen, who trains six days a week, five hours a day with morning and evening workouts at the Hawai'i Academy in Kalihi.
Junior trampoline preliminaries begin Friday, 10 a.m. at the Hawai'i Convention Center. The top six advance to Saturday's finals at 4 p.m.
"I'm going to try to make the finals," said Vercruyssen, who also wanted to improve on her personal best score of 35.8. "For my total score, I'm going to try to make a 36.0."
Vercruyssen's ability to deliver strong performances under challenging conditions earned her the nickname "The Mailman," which was coined by her father.
"No matter what — if she's sleep-deprived, jet-lagged or ill — it doesn't matter," the father said. "You put her on, and she'll do her routines."
Asked about her Olympic dreams, Vercruyssen said she prefers to concentrate on upcoming meets.
Because Olympic rules require trampolinists to be older than 18, Vercruyssen would be 21 if she were to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
"A lot of things can happen in that time, like college or other things," Vercruyssen said. "We're just taking it one meet at a time."
Legendary gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi is in town to promote the competition and said he's very proud of Vercruyssen's accomplishments. Vercruyssen has a lot of potential, Karolyi said at Island Tumblers Gymnastics in Waipi'o.
"She has a great perspective," said Karolyi, who has coached 28 Olympians and led the 1996 U.S. women's team to Olympic gold. "She's young. She's only 14 years old. You can imagine for how many more years she can represent the United States, and how many great victories she can obtain in international competition. We're looking to see her in many years from now on."
Members of the eight-person U.S. Trampoline Team are Chris Estrada (Lafayette, La.), Alaina Hebert (Broussard, La.), Steven Gluckstein (Atlantic Highlands, N.J.), Michael Devine (Winnebago, Ill.), Shanelle Landry (Lafayette, La.), Philip Devine (Winnebago, Ill.), Erin Blanchard (Youngsville, La.) and Vercruyssen. ... The Pacific Alliance Championships is one of the first international events to use the new scoring system for artistic gymnastics that allows gymnasts to earn scores above the traditional 10.0. ... U.S. junior women's artistic gymnast Shantessa Pama was born in Kona, Hawai'i.
Reach Brandon Masuoka at email@example.com.