LONDON -- At the last Olympics, Rosie MacLennan was a volunteer. She used frequent flier miles to travel from Toronto. She slept on an air mattress in the living room of her brother Matt's Vancouver home. She spent the 2010 Winter Games working at Canada House, the home away from home for Canadian athletes and their families, restocking food, running errands, whatever.
One of her duties: going to the printer to pick up photos of medal winners, so they could be framed and put on the wall.
"It was perfect," she said. "It was an amazing experience."
At this Olympics, Rosie MacLennan is a gold medallist. She won the women's trampoline competition Saturday in London, giving her country its first victory of the 2012 Summer Games. She was whisked to Canada House, where former Vancouver co-workers brought her food, where the prime minister called for her, where the other athletes and their families sang "O Canada" and chanted "GOLD-EN GIRL!" in her honour. Someone had to go to the printer to pick up a photo of her. It is framed and hanging on the wall.
How perfect and amazing is that?
"It certainly has been a bit of a dream come true," she said.
[Photos: Rosie MacLennan wins gold]
MacLennan spoke in a quiet room at Canada House on Sunday night. At first glance, you would have thought she was still a volunteer. Only 23 years old, only five foot two, she is a grad student, headed to the University of Toronto in the fall to work on a master's in exercise science. She wore a black Canada T-shirt and blue jeans, and she was low key and relaxed and smiling. Humble. The only golden thing she seemed to have was her watch.
Yet as she detailed her experience, she gave an inside look at what it is like to do what you always wanted and accomplish what you never expected you would -- not to mention receive tweets from Justin Bieber and Samuel L. Jackson. She was the same person she was 2 1/2 years before or 24 hours before. But now she was carrying a little black non-descript pouch. She opened it up, pulled out her gold medal and unravelled the ribbon.
She held it out and offered a writer a chance to hold it.
It was heavy. It was real.
MacLennan's grandfather qualified for the 1940 Tokyo Games in gymnastics but couldn't compete because of geopolitical problems. She said she wanted to be an Olympian "just like another kid says, 'I want to be an astronaut.' " As a toddler, she would pretend to march in the Opening Ceremony. As an undergrad, she wrote a thesis on cyclist/speedskater Clara Hughes and her humanitarian work.
Though MacLennan competed four years ago in Beijing, she was still wide-eyed in London. She spotted one of her idols a couple of times in the Athletes Village and whispered, "Oh, my God. Is that Clara Hughes?" Then she actually got to chat with her. Even now that she's a fellow gold medallist, she beams about it.
So imagine the emotion of Saturday. MacLennan woke up with another one of her idols -- training partner, close friend and roommate Karen Cockburn. For so long, it had seemed like this far-away day, this thing for which they were always preparing.
"We just looked at each other like, 'Well, today's the day,' " MacLennan said.
It was about to go by in a blur.
"They kind of marshal you out into the corridor, and you can hear all the music and the people," MacLennan said. "And when you march out, there's almost like this explosion of energy that you feel. I think that's when it really hits you that you're there to compete at the Olympic Games."
MacLennan added: "I think that's when I started shaking a little bit."
The athletes had only 30 seconds to test the equipment. MacLennan had a tough time finding a good bounce. She had tough time gauging her spatial awareness in the new environment. She was still shaking.
MacLennan went off alone, closed her eyes and visualized what she was going to do, listening to Citizen Cope's "Let The Drummer Kick," letting her heart rate sync with the beat. When she opened her eyes, she saw her family right in front of her -- her parents, Jane and John; her brothers, Matt and Mike; her sister, Kate.
"It was calming in a way, because at the last minute, it reminded me, 'OK, no matter what happens here, that's going to stay the same. Nothing about the anchors in my life will change,' " MacLennan said, before breaking into a laugh.
"Didn't really stop me from shaking all that much."
Her first routine was simple, precise and strong. She was fourth. She felt better. Her second routine was more complicated, still strong. She was still fourth and headed to the final. She felt much better. Everything was riding on her last routine, but she wouldn't have to go first, and she wouldn't have to go last. The shakiness was gone.
"It was really at that point, I looked at my family and looked around and really started to enjoy the experience," MacLennan said. "I knew that there was absolutely nothing to lose, and I may as well just give it my all."
Her final routine … well, she was so absorbed, so focused, she can't remember it. She remembers looking at her coach and seeing him nod. She remembers going to the kiss-and-cry area to await her score. She remembers seeing the 57.305 -- the highest she had ever posted -- and almost swearing on TV, barely catching herself.
"Holy sh …"
Cockburn came up to her and told her that was going to take it. MacLennan didn't let herself think that. There were three competitors to go. What if the judges were just scoring high on this particular day? What if the next three were better?
Well, the next athlete scored behind her. That meant she had at least bronze. And the next athlete scored behind her. At least silver. Finally, the last competitor stumbled.
"Holy sh …"
"I was tearing up, just in utter shock," MacLennan said. "It's something that you dream about, but you never really expect to happen."
MacLennan was so preoccupied with the Canadians in the crowd, so lost in the moment waving to people, she almost walked past the podium. The medal went around her neck. She said, "Thank you." The anthem played. She sang it loud, knowing her mom would be mad if she didn't.
"I don't think there's anything that matches that," MacLennan said. "I mean, it's a huge honour to even represent Canada at the Olympics or even in international competition. But to see your flag and to hear your anthem and to be able to sing it on top of the podium at the Olympics, it's an incredible feeling, and I felt really proud to be Canadian."
The blur was not over yet. Now it was time to share her story. Now it was time to celebrate. She was whisked to the mixed zone, a mosh pit in which athletes stand on one side of a fence and reporters stand on the other, jostling for position, firing all kinds of questions. A Sidney Crosby is used to it, even a Clara Hughes. Not Rosie MacLennan.
She was whisked off to doping. She got to see her family, got to hug her mom. Still in her podium gear, still a little smelly, she was whisked to the broadcast centre. She was interviewed by people she watches at home. Radio, TV, live, recorded. She was whisked to the press centre, several hours now after her gold-medal performance. News conference. More questions. She kept the medal in her pocket, unless asked to show it.
Finally, she was whisked to Canada House and sneaked in the back door. A couple of the same people she worked with in Vancouver brought her food and gave her time with her family. They put her on the phone with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
"Congratulations," the PM told her. "You did the country proud."
Then she went downstairs. The crowd serenaded her with the anthem, chanted her name, chanted "GOLD-EN GIRL!" She posed for pictures and talked to all kinds of people. She recognized a couple guys but wasn't sure who they were until they whipped out silver medals of their own. They rowed in the men's eights.
At the end of the night, she checked her phone -- text messages, voicemails, Facebook notifications. Her Twitter followers had gone from 900 to 9,000, and she would receive tweets from Bieber, Jackson and Dallas Green of "City and Colour." (Wait. Samuel L. Jackson? "Big Shout Out to the MUTHACANUKIN Gold Medal Trampoliners!!" "Bizarre," she said, smiling.)
She was so exhausted, she passed out in the car back to the Village. But she couldn't sleep once she got there. She and Cockburn both tossed and turned all night. Her phone kept buzzing so much, she had to turn it off. She got maybe two hours of shuteye. How can you sleep when your dreams have come true?
Sunday morning, MacLennan had the room to herself. There was no food to restock, no errand to run, no photo to pick up. There was no anticipation of competition, no pressure, no shakiness. There was no interview to do. There was nowhere to be. It was quiet.
She checked her e-mail -- and checked her gold medal, making sure it was there, still locked in her bedside table. She wrote a blog and took a long, luxurious shower. It was perfect and amazing.
"Just really took my time, having that kind of moment of peace," MacLennan said. "You can kind of relive what you went through. 'OK, it really happened.' "