Two-time Olympic gold medalist Rosie MacLennan may have retired, but she remains a vital ally for athletes

Rosie Maclennan arrives unaccompanied and without fanfare at the CBC Sports offices for our interview.

“I’m a little early,” she says in a text message. “But don’t rush, I’m happy to read a little until you’re ready for me.”

The two-time Olympic trampoline champion has arrived to reflect on her career and to talk about why she decided now is the time to retire from competitive sport.

MacLennan, 34, has also just returned from the World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where she is the athletes’ representative at the International Gymnastics Federation [FIG]. From here it’s back to Stanford University in California to complete her MBA degree.

There’s a lot to consider when trying to measure everything this small but mighty woman has done and continues to do.

Rosie, as she is affectionately known, has long soared through the stratosphere and sometimes under the radar of the Canadian sports landscape.

CLOCK | Scott Russell sits down with Rosie Maclennan:

Two-time Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan announces her retirement

Two-time Olympic trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan sits down with Scott Russell to reflect on her career and the next chapter.

She’s that rare athlete to have competed in four Olympics. MacLennan also carried the Canadian flag at the opening ceremony of Rio 2016, successfully defending the gold medal she won in London four years earlier.

She became the first and only Canadian at Summer Games to repeat as an Olympic champion in an individual competition. She has also won 18 major international titles, was a two-time World Trampoline Champion and a two-time Pan American Games gold medalist, including at home in Toronto in 2015.

“I think that will always go down in history as one of my fondest memories,” she said. “That’s because I was finally able to perform in front of my home crowd and in front of people who never really got a chance to watch me compete. Winning a medal too and standing by my role model [three-time Olympic medallist)] Karen Cockburn, was a dream come true.”

MacLennan’s credentials as an athlete are unassailable. Her record in her sport is unparalleled, at least from a Canadian perspective.

MacLennan kisses her gold medal after winning the trampoline gymnastics competition at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

“Of all the champions I’ve coached, Rosie is perhaps the greatest,” said Dave Ross, her longtime coach and mentor. “Rosie brought incredible determination with a positive attitude and sunny personality. For her, a setback was just another challenge she would overcome.”

And there were several setbacks along the way. Concussions ahead of Toronto 2015, broken ankles and torn tendons en route to the Tokyo Olympics. But somehow, MacLennan managed to overcome it all to remain the constant contender throughout her exemplary career.

“Most top athletes have a phenomenal and admirable mental toughness that some call true determination,” Ross said. “And in Rosie’s case, there was no dark side of the force. She wanted all of her competitors to do their best while doing the work and risking to surpass her.

In Rosie’s case, there was no dark side of the force. She wanted all of her competitors to do their best while getting the job done and taking the risks to surpass them– Dave Ross, MacLennan’s longtime coach

“That extra, rare mental attitude is a common factor among the greatest athletes. However, some may become Machiavellian during their quest. Rosie worked to rise up rather than hold down her opponents.”

This unique quality of caring for the common good of athletes is an important and defining attribute of MacLennan and drives her even now that her days of competition are over.

“In a way, I don’t feel like it’s a retirement from the sport,” she said. “I realize I can still benefit from sport in a different way than sport. It’s just a change in the way I perform.”

Throughout her journey, MacLennan has expertly reconciled academics and advocacy with athletics, and has done so in a low-key manner, not to mention tremendously effective.

“She has the maturity and wisdom of leaders twice her age,” said Dr. Bruce Kidd, Olympian and one of MacLennan’s thesis advisors for her degree in Human Movement Sciences from the University of Toronto.

“She brings a humanitarian and sporting framework to everything she does and she advises and listens. As Chair of the Canadian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Council, her leadership at the start of the pandemic was to put public health and safety above all else.”

MacLennan speaks at a press conference on Safe Sport in June. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Leadership must come from athletes

Canadian Olympic Committee President, four-time Olympic rower Tricia Smith not only draws attention to MacLennan’s track record, but goes further and calls her a role model of integrity.

“This is a young woman who cares about people, cares about the athletes she represents so skillfully and cares about leaving things better than she found them,” Smith said. “And not just small things, big things like human rights and inclusion and access. I have nothing but respect for Rosie MacLennan.”

Leadership is important to MacLennan.

She increasingly believes that the source of this leadership in the Canadian sports system must come from the athletes themselves. For lack of a better explanation, she is hopeful that athletes will continue to “step up” and she is working towards that in her role as head of the COC’s Athlete Council.

“Sport has the potential to help youth and adolescents develop as human beings,” she said. “I was valued for more than my skills as a trampoline athlete. Which, in my opinion, counted. Athletes need to be more than just performers. Anything other than having athletes as equal partners is not a sustainable sports system.”

As personal heroes, MacLennan cites her teammate Cockburn and her late grandfather, Lorne Patterson, a gymnast who was denied participation in the 1940 Olympics because of the outbreak of World War II.

She also points to hockey great Hayley Wickenheiser, not only for her skill on the ice, but more importantly for the influence she has had on others off the ice.

MacLennan counts Hayley Wickenheiser-turned-physician among her heroes. (Tijana Martin/Canadian Press)

“Place of Passion”

“She’s been a trailblazer throughout her career,” MacLennan said of Wickenheiser. “She was really a strong advocate and supporter. She had the ability to transcend the field and make an impact on wider society.”

MacLennan has already lived up to those ideals and found the time to be an example to all Canadians at all levels of the games we all play.

“She understands how sport gives us all the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves,” said Dr. Marco Di Buono, President of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. “Through her work with Jumpstart and others, she has fought every opportunity to remove barriers to participation.

“Rosie has never failed to help us in our mission to support children in need across Canada, even during the pandemic as she has helped us provide virtual programs to thousands of children. Even as she prepared to represent Canada, she found time to help us and serve as a role model and inspiration to countless children and youth across the country.”

Champions are often remembered for the spectacular games or shiny medals they won. In many ways, the size of the trophy case — and what’s inside — seems to matter to a lot of people.

But now that MacLennan graciously takes his leave, there are other contributions that carry more weight.

“I think I would like to be remembered for my approach to the sport,” she said. “From a place of passion and love for what I did and trying to build a community of athletes. I hope my legacy doesn’t end here. I hope to continue working in this area and make an impact.”

There’s little doubt that she will do just that.

Even in retirement, Rosie MacLennan has all the skills in the world to make herself stand out.

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