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Tough Bounce: 2 Brothers, 1 Olympic Trampoline Slot

Jun 14, 2012
Originally published on June 14, 2012 8:23 pm

Steven and Jeffrey Gluckstein are in a tough spot. They're brothers. They're world-class athletes. They train together six times a week, side by side, at the same gym. And only one of them can make the U.S. Olympic team as a trampolinist.

Steven, 21, is precise on the bounce mat. He rockets up to the ceiling, twists his body into a jackknife, flips around a couple times and hits the trampoline for less than a second before he shoots back up. Every time he comes down, his feet stab the red X in the center.

Like a math equation, Steven calculates his movements for the exact moment.

"Add this, subtract this, OK, now multiply the flip by using your shoulders, slow it down by using less hips — constantly adding, subtracting, multiplying, doing all kinds of different stuff to make that perfect bounce," he says.

Where Steven is obsessive, Jeffrey, 19, is chill. Where Steven is sharp, Jeffrey is easy. Steven's the hard worker. Jeffrey's the natural.

"It's mostly instinctual for me. I do have a sense for the trampoline — it gets me, I get it," Jeffrey says.

The guys live at home with their parents, where their dynamic is apparent. When Steven wakes up, he'll typically make breakfast for his sleeping brother. And at night, Jeffrey may return the favor by cooking dinner.

Most prospective Olympians aren't getting tucked in at night by their biggest rival. Then again, most prospective Olympians don't have this close a relationship.

"Yeah, we're best friends," Steven says.

The Glucksteins spend their time training at Elite Trampoline Academy in Red Bank, N.J. Their coach, Tatiana Kovaleva, yells out the maneuvers they're supposed to do and times them with a stopwatch.

"You're trying, but I still see the arm!" she tells Jeffrey. "I have to say it several times to him, what we're doing, he's so lost."

After Jeffrey comes Steven. Each one gets about 20 seconds on the trampoline. While in the air, Steven flips more than 20 times.

At the end of his turn, he keeps track of his performances in a composition book.

"I can look back and say, 'Oh, I had 33 practices and 739 turns, but I did really bad at the competition. Maybe I need to up my turns,' " Steven says.

It's the perfect system for a perfectionist like Steven. Jeffrey has one, too — Steven says Jeffrey just copies his at the end of practice.

After Steven's next turn, though, he doesn't write anything down. He just walks away, stalking angrily away over three trampolines.

"This sport is so much mental. It's like 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical," Steven says.

The mental game is extreme in part because Steven's competing with his brother. He and his best friend are going flip to flip on June 27 for one spot in the Olympics.

And Jeffrey can feel the anxiety, too. He says they try not to talk about their looming situation at home.

"It's such a big year; it's the Olympics. And how can you not talk about the Olympics? It's definitely going to pop up; you can't get rid of this," Jeffrey says.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Two brothers, one spot. That's the situation of Steven and Jeffery Gluckstein. They're both qualified to compete in the Olympics for trampoline. But there's only one opening for a male from the U.S. So, six times a week, they train together at the same gym, side by side, knowing that when the Olympics come, only one of them will get to compete.

NPR's Zoe Chace has the story.

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Steven Gluckstein is precise. He rockets up to the ceiling, twists his body into a jackknife, flips around a couple times and only hits the trampoline for less than a second before he shoots back up. Every time he comes down, miraculously it seems, his feet stab the red X in the center. It's exact, like a math equation.

STEVEN GLUCKSTEIN: Add this, subtract this, OK. Now multiply the flip by using your shoulders. Slow it down by using less hips - constantly adding, subtracting, multiplying, doing all kinds of different stuff to make that perfect bounce.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPOLINE)

CHACE: Steven is 21 years old, two years older than his brother, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY GLUCKSTEIN: It's mostly instinctual for me. I do have a sense for the trampoline. It gets me, I get it.

CHACE: Where Steven is obsessive, Jeffry is chill. Where Steven is sharp, Jeffrey is easy.

GLUCKSTEIN: You space out and it's scary.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAMPOLINE)

CHACE: Steven's the hard worker, Jeffrey's the natural. The boys live together at home with their parents and everyone knows the dynamic from the moment they wake up, Steven says.

GLUCKSTEIN: He is usually not up. I usually make him breakfast so he gets up.

CHACE: And, at night, Jeffrey says, he'll return the favor and make dinner.

GLUCKSTEIN: I tried to do it last night. I asked if you wanted a pizza and you said - you refused. You told me, no.

GLUCKSTEIN: I didn't want a piece of pizza at 12:00 at night.

CHACE: Most prospective Olympians aren't getting tucked in at night by their biggest rival, but also most prospective Olympians, most brothers, don't have this.

GLUCKSTEIN: Yeah. We're best friends.

TATIANA KOVALEVA: Flare, up. That was a good reach. Add more...

CHACE: This is what practice is like. Their coach, Tatiana Kovaleva, yells out to them the skill they're supposed to do and times it on a stopwatch.

KOVALEVA: You're trying, but I still see the arm. I have to say it several times to him what we're doing. He's so lost.

CHACE: After Jeffrey comes Steven. Each of them gets about 20 seconds on the trampoline. He flips more than 20 times in the air. At the end of Steven's turn, he pulls out a composition book and writes everything down.

GLUCKSTEIN: So here we go.

CHACE: Page back through the book, it looks like notes from a stats class.

GLUCKSTEIN: So the first column is turns, so how many times did I get on and off the trampoline. First turn is a back tuck, so the four is for how many quarters it was. So if you did a stomach drop...

CHACE: It gets complicated really quickly.

GLUCKSTEIN: ...I can look back and say, oh, I had 33 practices and 739 turns, but I did really bad at the competition. Maybe I need to up my turns.

CHACE: It is the perfect system for someone like Steven. Jeffrey has one, too. Steven says Jeffrey just copies his at the end of practice.

GLUCKSTEIN: Come on, Steven.

CHACE: After Steven's next turn, though, he doesn't write anything down. He just walks away. If you could stalk angrily away over three trampolines, that's what he did. It's impossible for me to tell between the flips, tucks and turns that Steven's having a bad day. It looks incredible to me, but Steven's a perfectionist. He comes back a few minutes later.

GLUCKSTEIN: This sport is so much mental. It's like 90 percent mental, 10 percent physical.

CHACE: And the head game right now is intense because it's his brother, it's his best friend, it's one spot for the Olympics.

Jeffrey feels it, too.

GLUCKSTEIN: Yeah. It's just real - I don't know, just real, real tough.

CHACE: He drops his head, looks at his hands. He says they try not to talk about it at home, but...

GLUCKSTEIN: It's such a big year. It's the Olympics and how can you not talk about the Olympics? It's definitely going to pop up. You can't get rid of this.

CHACE: The boys have one more trial left June 27th. Whoever wins that trial goes on to the Olympics. It's that simple.

Zoe Chace, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.