Making of an Olympian: Dylan Schmidt - A teenager with the backbone to excel

By Brenton Vannisselroy

In a five-part series, the Herald is profiling New Zealand Olympians going for gold at Rio 2016. The films feature exclusive access to top athletes and get to the heart of what makes an Olympian. They will be released every Friday throughout July. The third of the series profiles trampolinist Dylan Schmidt.

Dylan Schmidt is among the teenagers in the New Zealand Olympic team for Rio, but he has the mind and spine of a much more mature athlete.

Schmidt, 19, will next month become the first New Zealander to compete in trampoline at an Olympics, having secured his spot by claiming silver at the Rio test event in April.

He took up the sport as a five-year-old after following his older brother and sister to a trampoline club in Te Anau. A year later, when his family moved to Waihi, he started the regular commute to Auckland to be coached by Angie Dougal at Extreme Trampoline.

By 2009, Schmidt was the under-13 world champion.

"That was the big moment when I thought, hey, I can do pretty well in this sport ... and after that, I started training towards the Olympics," Schmidt said.

He capped his junior career by winning gold at the 2014 Youth Olympics in China. But he didn't have it all his own way before transitioning into the senior ranks.

"I had a pretty rough patch for two years. I just couldn't stay on for some reason. I'd make finals and then in the finals, I'd have a shocker," Schmidt said.

It got even worse. At his last world championships as an age-group athlete, he fell off in both his preliminary routines, missing a place in the final.

"Sometimes that's the way it goes. It's pretty common that one or two would crash," he said.

"It's definitely a cut-throat sport. One thing goes wrong and that's it, it's all over for you - no second chances.

"That's part of the sport I kind of hate, but I love it as well because everybody's in the same boat."

During this period, Jarrod Heriot took over as Schmidt's coach and together they worked on his mental strength.

"The mental side is huge. I think that's what defines an athlete from a great athlete," Schmidt said.

"There are a lot of ways people deal with it and you can get psychologists and stuff like that. Personally, I didn't enjoy psychologists and I just keep to myself.

"I enjoy the challenge of trying to work things out and it's definitely a strength of mine.

"Me and my coach sort of chat about it and we go through what we could do and what we could do wrong. We've found a good method of competing."

New Zealand trampolinist Dylan Schmidt during a training session. Photo / Brett Phibbs
New Zealand trampolinist Dylan Schmidt during a training session. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Heriot has helped Schmidt be positive in his thoughts and focus on the process rather than the outcome.

"What gets some people into trouble is they focus on the outcome and the goals they want to achieve and forget about the process they need to go through to get there," Heriot said.

"That's something that he's amazing at now. He's just very focused on what he needs to do in each and every skill and routine and it gets him the results he wants.

"That's what makes him such a well-rounded athlete. It's not just his natural talent. It's his work ethic and mental strength that makes him so good."

Schmidt has also had physical hurdles to overcome in his young career. In May, he had emergency appendix surgery, but just three weeks later was on a plane to compete at world cup events in Italy and Switzerland.

Jumping "felt a bit weird for a couple of weeks", but Schmidt was still able to make the final of the second world cup, before crashing.

His lower back has been a bigger and longer-term issue.

Since he was 12, Schmidt has managed bulging discs at the bottom of his lumbar spine. And more recently, he's had a similar issue at the top of his sacrum, which connects the lumbar region to the tailbone.

His back flared up at the Rio test event in April and he returned home to have scans.

"I've had a few specialist appointments," Schmidt said. "There's no reason why I should stop. I'm not too worried about it and they didn't seem too worried about it," he said.

"The load transfers through my spine a little bit differently, which makes it degrade a little bit faster than it should.

"The rest of my spine is in perfect health. I haven't had any back problems since the test event. I'm just really stoked that's all working out and hopefully I can maintain that to the Games."

Management is the key for Schmidt.

"I do a lot of warming up and warming down with training and in the mornings, I've got some stretches I do to make sure my back is all lengthened out after a night's sleeping," he said.

The 2016 Rio Olympics will see Dylan become the first New Zealand athlete to compete in trampoline at the Olympic Games. Photo / Brett Phibbs
The 2016 Rio Olympics will see Dylan become the first New Zealand athlete to compete in trampoline at the Olympic Games. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Heriot, who has coached international trampolinists for around two decades, says back problems are relatively common in the sport.

"There are amazing forces going through your spine when you're jumping," he said.

"You're looking at probably 12-14 times your bodyweight going through that area every time you impact the trampoline.

"It's about technique and making sure you're doing things correctly, but also making sure that the strength is there through the core and through the glutes to absorb that impact."

Heriot was lured to New Zealand in 2013 after being Gymnastics Australia's national trampoline coach of the year in 2012.

"I came over for six months. That was two-and-a-half years ago and I'm still here," Heriot said.

He wouldn't have made the move across the Tasman if it wasn't for Schmidt.

"He's without doubt the most proficient athlete that I've worked with," Heriot said.

"I've taken athletes to world championships many times, but Dylan's someone that is not just getting to Olympics.

"The goal is to podium at the Olympics. Not so much at this one, but looking towards 2020 in Japan and on to 2024 as well.

"He's very focused on that goal and to be able to work with someone with that determination and ability is pretty special."

Dylan Schmidt

• Competes August 14, 5am (NZT)

• All competitors perform compulsory and optional routines in the preliminary round, with nine judges awarding scores for height, technique, execution, continuous rhythm and body control.

• The top eight progress to the final and perform one more voluntary routine.

• Each routine lasts just 25 seconds.

• Athletes can compete in socks or shoes designed for trampolines, but are not allowed to compete in bare feet.

• Trampoline has been a part of the Olympics since Sydney 2000.

• China has won a third of all men's and women's Olympic trampoline medals.

- NZ Herald

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