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Sibling rivalry to determine US trampoline berth

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2011 file photo shows Steven Gluckstein, of the United States, competing in the rhythmic gymnastics men's individual trampoline qualification during the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Steven Gluckstein spent his childhood two steps ahead of younger brother Jeffrey, clicking off each of lifeis major milestones first. Now, however, Jeffrey can snatch way an important one: Olympian. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

FILE - This Oct. 17, 2011 file photo shows Steven Gluckstein, of the United States, competing in the rhythmic gymnastics men's individual trampoline qualification during the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico. Steven Gluckstein spent his childhood two steps ahead of younger brother Jeffrey, clicking off each of lifeis major milestones first. Now, however, Jeffrey can snatch way an important one: Olympian. (AP Photo/Javier Galeano, File)

Loretta Gluckstein can sense the mood the moment sons Steven and Jeffrey walk through the door.

If there's an ounce of tension in the air, she does whatever she can to defuse it. Maybe she'll bring up the Yankees. Or ask them if they bothered to pick up their clothes off the floor.

Anything to stop either from mentioning the word "Olympics."

The brothers from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., are the top competitors for the lone U.S. men's trampoline spot in the London Games heading into the national championships next week. Steven has a six-point lead in the standings over his little brother, hoping to grab the Olympic bid he narrowly missed four years ago.

Two brothers. One spot. The math is easy.

"One of us is going to be heartbroken," Jeffrey said.

And the other one is going to be elated.

"It's stressful," Loretta Gluckstein said. "Actually, it's beyond stressful."

Trampoline is, as Steven describes it, "all of the coolest and craziest flips you've ever seen done, double them and then do 10 in a row." It would seem to be must-see TV for the X-Games set, yet it is still struggling for a foothold here, with athletes from China and Russia dominating the medal podium during trampoline's Olympic infancy.

But the Glucksteins have little doubt it will take off once the U.S. becomes competitive internationally, and believe a top-10 finish in London for whichever Gluckstein brother gets the nod would be a step in the right direction.

Jeffrey Gluckstein, 19, is perhaps the most talented trampolinist in the country. The only thing standing between him and an Olympic berth is the guy who lives under the same roof, the one he's been chasing his entire life.

For years Steven, who turns 22 on Sunday, checked off all of life's milestones first. He was the one who got into trampoline while in elementary school after his taekwondo school closed. The one who won national championships first. The one who knew all along he had a shot to make it to the Olympics after trampoline was added to the program in 2000.

Where Steven is driven, Jeffrey, who at 5-foot-9 is two inches taller, is laid back. He didn't think much about the Olympics until a year or two ago, more interested in just getting on the trampoline and seeing what kind of stunts he could pull 30 feet in the air.

"It's like the tortoise and the hare," Loretta said. "Steven just methodically works out diligently. Makes sure he's doing everything regimentally. Jeffrey, is like 'Oh, I'm five minutes late, what do I have to do again now?"'

Even Jeffrey admits his older brother is perhaps more deserving of the spot. Steven is the one who will sometimes cram two three-hour workouts into a single day. Steven is the one who is so organized he sometimes pesters his brother to get all his paperwork together.

Jeffery is, well, a teenager. Ask him what he likes about trampoline -- which basically packs all of the flipping and twisting of artistic gymnastics without the need for all that pesky equipment -- and Jeffrey sheepishly rattles off things like meeting friends and traveling before coming to perhaps the most obvious answer.

"Girls," he said. "I like that, too."

Don't get Jeffrey wrong, he cares deeply about competing. After spending years dominating the junior ranks while his brother won three senior national titles, Jeffrey eclipsed Steven in 2011. He won every major event while Steven wondered if his window of opportunity had been slammed shut by the kid who insisted on being the bad guy when the two played "cops and robbers" as children.

"There was a meet in the spring where I hit a really good routine and I thought there was no way anyone was going to touch me," Steven said. "He ended up beating me pretty good."

It turned out to be the wake-up call Steven needed.

"It was a terrible year for me," he said. "I went out there and lost all my confidence. After you fall once, that negativity eats at your brain. You really need something big to push it out. Anyone telling you they don't have negativity is lying to you. The easiest way to get rid of it is hard work."

When the calendar flipped to 2012, Steven hit delete on 2011 and pressed forward. He guaranteed the U.S. a spot in the Olympics by finishing 10th at the Olympic test event in January, then backed it up by winning the first two legs of the three-meet Olympic selection process. Jeffrey has been second both times, but acknowledges that catching Steven at nationals in San Jose next week will be difficult.

What's the difference been this year? Though Loretta points to Steven's dedication and the likelihood that this is his last, best shot at making it to the games, she also thinks there's a bit of compliance from Jeffrey.

"Steven does want it," she said. "Jeffrey is a very kind and sensitive boy, and this is just me as a mom looking at it, but I think he wants his brother to have it because it's like, 'He's older, he's been working out so much more and harder. I can do this but I might hold back a little.' But maybe that's just the mom in me."

Loretta knows the youngest of her and husband Steven Gluckstein Sr.'s three children -- older sister Amanda is 25 -- would love to win.

Just maybe not as much as his brother.

"The Olympics is a big boy game, it's an adult's game and my brother is still 19 years old and a little immature," Steven said. "I try to get him going. He doesn't want to hear it from his big brother. So that's where we kind of butt heads."

Hey, it was bound to happen after years training alongside each other. Their workouts are intense and competitive, but they've become masters of leaving that at the gym.

Living an hour south of New York City, they like the same sports teams -- Yankees, New Jersey Devils and New York Giants -- and are just as happy watching Derek Jeter at the plate as they are rehashing their day in training.

Besides, they know the days in which they'll compete against each other are dwindling. Steven, who is an accomplished skydiver, is working on his degree in business management, and envisions a day where he makes enough money on Wall Street to open his own trampoline gym.Could he one day go into business with his brother, who has already promised to continue competing beyond London?

"If he's still living on my mother's couch," Steven said, "I might have to hire him."

No references necessary.