INTERVIEW: IN CONVERSATION WITH

MICHEL ROUQUETTE

THE VOICE OF TRAMPOLINE!

It was at an INSEP soccer party with friend Michel Jazy that the sport of Trampoline swept former athlete Michel Rouquette off his feet. That was in 1963. Since then, his career has catapulted forward!

Michel Rouquette, you’re often called Mr Trampoline. You’re everywhere!

MR: I discovered the sport by sheer chance at the Institut National du Sport in Paris (INSEP) while I was playing soccer with Michel Jazy (a French middle-distance runner). Some friends called us over saying, “Come see this. Some guy is jumping on an insane contraption!”  It was George Hery, an American who was soon to become the first world champion in history. He was jumping without any safety equipment – I was so impressed. At the end of his demo, he said he was going to leave his trampoline behind. I asked my dad, who is a merchant, to buy it for me, and set it up at the school where I teach in Asnières. That’s how it all got started. We began training French trampoline specialists, and our first champions.

So your career was really a stroke of luck. If you hadn’t been there, it’s possible that there would be no trampoline in France.

MR: Absolutely, but I think you need to embrace luck in life. I have a background in athletics. I was totally unacquainted with gymnastics. Pierre Blois and Bernard Ammon were my first coaches, and then, little by little, I moved into the development phase. I realized early on that you hit a point of saturation where you stop making progress. We needed a champion to get going again. And that champion was Paul Luxon, the Brit. In 1970 we brought Paul Luxon to France for a vacation with his coach Brian Jones, and shot a movie with my Super 8 camera. We were able to re- and forward- wind the film in order to learn and reproduce Paul Luxon’s moves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because of our time with Luxon, we were ready as of 1972 to participate in our first world championship. Our champion was Richard Tison, who finished 21st. We were unsatisfied and continued working with Paul Luxon, who by 1972 had become the world champion.

What fascinates you about the apparatus?

MR: I’m fascinated by flight. Freedom. Being suspended in air. It’s magic. In the 1960s, no other sport allowed you to catapult into the air and perform different figures. Jumps at that time were much lower. But we were really impressed, nonetheless. It was incredible to reach six feet! Today, with China’s flight time, we’re reading 11 or 12 metres. It’s extraordinary.

When you first brought the apparatus to France, naturally you had to spread the word. Were you something of a pioneer?

MR: There’s a legend of an acrobatic troubadour named Du Trampolin, whose idea it was to place a board across two trestles to make shapes. It’s all a bit fanciful. I think the name comes from ‘trampoline board’, which mutated into trampoline. My friends and I thought that troubadour was synonymous with the words ‘celebration and public place’. So we also decided to demonstrate on beaches and a little bit everywhere in France.  With the Federation we gave more than 500 demonstrations. We reached out to the public where there were existing events: half-time soccer, France championship finals. We used them to present our sport discipline. We gained in popularity by going to the people. For example, we gave performances at the main Tour de France stopovers.

After the beach performances, physical education teachers rallied together to create Thursday sport associations. In those days school kids had Thursdays off, and we took advantage of that to encourage them to play, to learn the figures and to try moving in the air. They had to get used to the apparatus. Trampoline impacts the inner ear, vision; they’re very important.

At the outset you were an athlete rather than a trampoline specialist. Trampoline changed your life?

MR: Completely! I was the coach for team France from 1968 – 1989. And I discovered the profession! What do you need to be a coach? You need a basic understanding of technique. Trampoline is 30% technique. You especially need to know how to lead your group. You need to make commandos out of them, magic kangaroos! You also need to protect your athletes and teach them how to fight the other kangaroos. To be a coach is to be a strategist, and to have a strong mental preparation. You also need a little competitive luck because you can’t win on your good humour.

Early on, trampoline was not as safe as it is now. No one told you that it was a dangerous sport?

MR: No, I have to say that in France, trampoline started with an accident. Philippe Bouvard invited Richard Tison to his television show ‘Bouvard en liberté’ on Antenne 2. We’d practised on the stage that morning without light. During the show, with all the stage lights on Richard, he fell hard with his head on the edge of the frame. Immediate loss of consciousness! The Minister of Health, Simone Veil, was very worried. But because of his demonstration, though it failed, trampoline became a respectable, well-known sport. Fortunately, Richard was feeling fine the next day, and the accident was a thing of the past. It did not have an impact on Tison’s career since Richard became the world champion the very next year.

What do you think about trampoline 50 years later? It has evolved a lot since the 1960s.

MR: Trampoline has come a long way, and is in a well-developed place aesthetically. We reached a remarkable level.  Technicians from the international Federation have taken the sport upward by adding flight time.  Before, if you were a little tonic and could execute difficulties even haphazardly, it was impressive. Now you need enormous suspension times. The discipline is majestic, and it is going to evolve even if the equipment has been pushed to the extreme. Today we have apparatus that catapults you really high. When you’re at 11m over a 2x4m surface, it feels like you’re jumping on a postal stamp. It’s kind of scary.

I think we’ve reached the limits with regard to equipment development. Safety has really progressed with lateral and depth protection, as well as floor mats. We’re seeing a lot less accidents. When we did our demos with Richard Tison in 1974, no one was there to ensure safety on the rocky beaches of Dinard. A single mistake could have ended Richard’s career. Fortunately today we are working in a more reasonable environment.

Can you name 2-3 champions that have left and continue to leave an impression on you?

MR: The first is Paul Luxon from England. When I walked into his ‘Kingston’ club in London, the coach was seated on a chair 15m away, watching his champion from a distance. That’s how we can read acrobatics – from a distance. Coaches that stay stuck to the trampoline and look up don’t have an accurate perception of angles or twist axes. I learned that coaching is done one-on-one. You make corrections between every figure, take stock, reposition so that the next performance is better. I learned a lot with Paul Luxon.

I think that Steward Matthews brought some really astonishing things to the sport. He was the first to propose exercises longer than 20 seconds. That really impressed me. These are two champions. They are British. We always get along well together; we have a good vibe.

Who is Michel Rouquette today?

MR: I am now the mayor of my hometown in Aveyron, a hamlet of 200 inhabitants. I am responsible for sanitation and local development. I’m currently in the process of putting in place a local natural reserve with a few of my colleagues from Aubrac. My life is full and, thanks to sport and trampoline, extremely happy.

 

 

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