The painful stumble that helped Dibb tumble to silver
Just three months into her comeback from knee surgery, Bronwyn Dibb jumps to silver at the world trampoline championships
Of course, Bronwyn Dibb loves the sensation of somersaulting through the air. But it’s the tactical manoeuvring away from the double mini trampoline that thrills her most.
Competing at the highest tier of the sport isn't simply about running, bouncing, tumbling - bouncing and tumbling again - and landing safely.
“You have to watch what your opponents are doing, and work out exactly what you're going to do next,” the acrobat from North Canterbury says. It's about knowing when to play your cards right.
Dibb called on all of her strategies to win silver at the world championships in Tokyo a week ago – becoming the first Kiwi in 21 years to claim a world trampolining medal.
And she was oh-so close to the gold - just 0.2 points behind the reigning world champion Lina Sjoeberg of Sweden (merely a smidgeon, when you consider Dibb scored 68.8 points, to Sjoeberg’s 69).
“I’ve done so many years of trampolining, and been at that level for so long; to finally win a medal made me super happy,” the 22-year-old says.
But maybe Dibb’s most strategic move came over a year ago, when she delayed major knee surgery so she could compete at the 2018 world championships. It could have gone terribly wrong, but Dibb believed the risk was worth it for a chance to compete at the highest level.
Then, after a reconstruction and a painstaking rehabilitation, Dibb was back in competition training for just three months before winning the silver at these world champs.
“It was a tough decision. But I think it’s all paid off,” she says. In the end, she says, it's made her "a stronger and a better athlete.”
It was April last year that Dibb ruptured her ACL after landing awkwardly in training. “It was just a freak thing,” she says.
But it was an injury that could have ended her career.
Dibb and her career-long coach, Nigel Humphreys, decided to put off having a knee reconstruction immediately, instead working on strengthening the knee so she could compete at the 2018 world championships in St Petersburg, Russia.
They were told “multiple times” that it wouldn’t work. But Dibb persevered.
“It wasn’t as stable as it normally would have been, but I still performed,” she says. Incredibly, she made the final then too, but “messed up” to finish seventh.
As soon as she returned home, Dibb went under the knife, and spent the next nine months in intensive rehabilitation.
“It was tough. I still went in to training every time my team trained to support them, and I was still coaching, but it was tough being around that environment every day,” she says.
It’s over two decades since a New Zealander won a world championship medal in trampolining. In 1998, Kylie Walker won her third double mini world title - she also won in 1992 and 1994, and won 10 senior world championship medals in her career.
Walker, who now lives in the United Kingdom, was also coached by Humphreys.
“I got up at 4.30am to watch Bronwyn’s final,” Walker says. “I’m so thrilled for her, and it’s wonderful that New Zealand is back on the podium.”
Dibb performed strongly in her preliminary rounds, qualifying for the final in sixth spot. “It goes back to a zero start for the final, so it was anyone’s game,” she says.
In double mini, all four passes at a world championship have to be different. You don’t necessarily save all your skills until the final, Dibb explains, “because you still want to make that final”.
With one pass to go, and sitting in the gold medal position, Dibb and Humphreys considered her next move. “We didn’t want to do too hard a pass and risk losing it, so we decided to play it safe,” she says.
She pulled it off, but Sjoeberg overtook her with a more difficult final pass.
It’s not the first time Dibb has stood on the dais at a world championship – she won silver at the world age group champs in 2014. She’s competed at every world open championship since.
Dibb was only back home in Rangiora a couple of days before flying out to South Africa – where she was born - to visit family before Christmas.
She moved to New Zealand, with her parents and older brother, when she was three. As a young gymnast, she saw others flipping on a trampoline at her club and wanted to give it a go. She’s never looked back.
Dibb still competes in individual trampoline – which is the sport’s only Olympic event for women and men – but it’s the shorter, sharper double mini she has always excelled at.
“I always knew with my strength and body type that double mini was my event. Most of the double mini women in the final at world champs were all short – roughly the same height as me.” Dibb is 160cm tall.
“We’ve got a good power to bodyweight ratio and we’re a little bit gutsy.”
Dibb has been coached by Humphreys since she went to her first national championships in 2006, at the age of nine.
“Nigel and his wife Vicki are like second parents to me,” says Dibb, who trains - and works as a coach four days a week - at the Humphreys’ ICE Trampoline Sports Club in Rangiora.
Her trampolining career has benefited from her university studies – she’s halfway through a bachelor of sports coaching, majoring in strength and conditioning, at the University of Canterbury.
“It’s been great for my sport. And I’ve been able to help others too – my team-mates ask me for advice,” she says.
Being a world silver medallist will make Dibb financially better off. She will move up a tier on the high performance funding ladder, but she will still have to self-fund much of her training and travel.
She receives help from the Inspire Foundation, a charity which supports young talent in Canterbury and Marlborough, and her parents, who continue to back and believe in her.
Now she's determined to go one better and win the world title.
There’s no world championship next year, as it’s an Olympic year. But there will be two chances in 2021 to be crowned the world’s best – at the world champs and the World Games, in Alabama.
Double-mini is included in the World Games because it’s not an Olympic event. She finished fourth at the last games in 2017.
To become a world champion, Dibb knows she will have to up her skills – and that means perfecting the move which almost took her out of the sport.
Dibb was trying to master the Miller – a triple twisting double backward somersault – when she injured her knee.
Although it’s a skill few women at the top of the sport have mastered, it was the move that nabbed Sjoeberg the gold medal in Tokyo.
Dibb says she has no fear of returning to the Miller. “I’ve been doing a lot of them into the foam pit, so it’s just a matter of gritting my teeth and going for it on the double mini.”