The Jersey City Skyliners trampoline club (http://www.skylinerstrampoline.com) has been leaving sports fans breathless for more than two years - and garnering their share of medals, honors, and international renown in the process.
On Saturday, Dec. 13, the Skyliners hosted the "Holiday Cup of Trampoline" at the Jersey City Armory, attracting gold-medal gymnasts from all over the world to Montgomery Street.
Spectators at the Armory witnessed eight hours of intense competition at ceiling-scraping heights Saturday. After the dust cleared and all the athletes had returned to solid ground, a Skyliner walked away with top honors - besting, among others, Toronto's Matt Turgeon, the international gold-medalist.
Skyliner and Holiday Cup champion Artiom Jangols, a powerful and elegant gymnast, wears the victor's laurels with humility, grace, and respect for the difficulty of his chosen sport. Jangols, 17 years old and a senior at Middletown High School, spends much of his time literally floating on air.
"I ride up to the Armory from Monmouth County every day at four, and then it's three hours of hard practice and conditioning," says the star performer, who also coaches aspiring gymnasts on the weekends.
His dedication and drive were instilled at an early age by parents who had distinguished themselves in Russia as gymnastics instructors - Jangols first hit the mats at 6 years old, and specialized in trampoline at 13. The twelfth grader describes his decision in language that is as enthusiastic and resolute as his approach to the trampoline. "I used to watch gymnastics on TV as a kid, and I was always ready to go to the gym," he recalls. "One day a coach came in with a trampoline, and started jumping really high. It looked so exciting, I knew I had to try it!" He is hoping to be catapulted toward his goal - a selection by the U.S. Olympic team.
Jangols, fellow Skyliner medalist Kevin Strickland, and other team members have had their Olympic ambitions greatly assisted by Coach David Popkin, a Jersey City resident and experienced trampoline gymnast.
Popkin competed in his first championship event at the age of 12 and has developed the Skyliners into a well-calibrated and internationally-respected force. The Skyliners are now the top-ranked men's team in the nation, and this year's Holiday Cup, organized by Popkin with assistance from Jersey City Recreation Director Robert Hurley, Sr., was a showcase for their astonishing talent.
Still, despite the team's success, Popkin admits that recruiting young gymnasts from Jersey City can be difficult. "There are so many promising kids, but we're bound a bit by financial strictures," says the coach, citing equipment costs and the price of membership in international gymnastics associations. Popkin has helped defray the financial impediments by contributing his own money and expertise to the cause. "I purchased some equipment, and we set up trampolines every day at the Armory," says Popkin.
In addition to his tireless work with the Skyliners, the former trampoline champion offers his services to novices as well. "I have free time set up on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and anybody can come," he says. "I take up to 20 people an hour."
The Skyliners will be returning to the Armory (678 Montgomery Street) in April for another international event, and will compete at seven to eight other meets during their season. To Coach Popkin, the sky is the limit for his team, and, by extension, for the trampoline as an independent sport.
"We stand on our own now, shoulder to shoulder with other gymnastics events," he says. "This is only the beginning."