Two locals to represent US at Pan Am Games

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Clare Johnson practices her routine under the eye of Coach Nuno Merino at Matrix Gym

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – When the 2015 Pan Am Games are held in Toronto in July, two locals will be there.  Clare Johnson is one of just four athletes selected to represent the US in trampoline. Her coach, Nuno Merino, is one of only two coaches chosen to attend.

On most days, you’ll find both Johnson and Merino hard at work inside The Matrix Gym in Huntsville.  At 17, Clare has been competing in trampoline most of her life.

Although the sport is not widely known in the US, Merino says it is gaining recognition, especially as more gymnasts incorporate trampolines into their training regimens.  However, he’s quick to point out — this is not gymnastics.

“I usually say the best gymnast in the world, they go to trampoline and they can’t do anything. They go, uh, this is too high for me,” said Merino.

So, just how high do these elite trampoline athletes jump?  Merino, who competed in the 2004 Olympics and is a past World Cup series champion, says, “this gym is 26 feet and I touch the ceiling.”

Height is important. Judges award athletes points based on how many seconds they spend in the air. Points are also given for difficulty and execution.

In addition, the athletes must keep their jumps as close as possible to an X marked in the middle of the trampoline bed; and, unlike gymnastics, touching the side of the mat means an automatic disqualification.

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Routines are only around 20 seconds long. Still, the skills they require take years to perfect.

Johnson spends nearly 20 hours a week in training. While that means giving up many typical teenage pursuits, she doesn’t see it as a sacrifice.

“I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to do the best I can. So, I know that means being in here a lot but I enjoy it,” she says.

The Pan Am games, the world’s third-largest multi-sport games, begin July 10.  Johnson and Merino will join more than 7,000 athletes from across the Americas and the Caribbean.

First, though, there’s the World Cup competition in Russia in June.  Johnson will also compete there with the US Trampoline Team.

A slumber party fundraiser to help cover her expenses is scheduled for Friday, May 1 at the Matrix.  From 8:30pm to 8:30am, participants can watch movies, play games and enjoy the gym.  The cost is $40 and includes pizza and a drink.

Signup can be done at the door or online at TheMatrixGym.com. Just click on the camp and clinic registration tab.