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LEAPS AND BOUNDS

South African star gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz to ‘give it my all’ at Paris Olympics

South African star gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz to ‘give it my all’ at Paris Olympics
Caitlin Rooskrantz, in action on the balance beam, is mentally ready for her second Olympic Games when she competes in Paris later this year. She says she ‘trusts’ herself more three years after the Tokyo Games. (Photo: Matthias Hangst / Getty Images)

South Africa’s star gymnast wants to test her limits further and add to her achievements.

During the previous Olympic Games, in Japan three years ago, South African gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz could hardly believe what she had achieved. By securing her ticket to Tokyo, she became the first South African woman to represent the country at the Olympics since 2004.

Rooskrantz qualified in the grandest of styles, too, becoming the first South African gymnast to win gold at an elite-level gymnastic competition when she clinched first place in the uneven bars event at the Artistic Gymnastics World Cup Challenge in Szombathely, Hungary, in 2019.

More importantly, Rooskrantz qualifying for her first Olympics while still a pupil at Parktown High School for Girls was a culmination of years of hard work, perseverance and determination.

A different experience

When Rooskrantz (22) started gymnastics at six years old, heading to the Olympics to represent her country would have been a distant dream. But she was clasping it firmly in her hands as a 19-year-old.

“Leading up to the 2024 Games, I’m feeling good. I’m feeling excited. With it being my second Games, one goes in a lot more experienced – you have an idea of what to expect. That gives me peace of mind,” Rooskrantz told Daily Maverick.

“Obviously, Tokyo was a bit different [because of Covid-19] to what Paris is going to be. Nonetheless, I’m feeling excited. I’ve put in the work and we’re still working really hard. So, I’m really looking forward to it.

“It feels great to know that I have ‘two-time Olympian’ behind my name. Qualifying for the first time was one of my biggest life dreams achieved. At the time, I did not even think that I would be going for a second one. But here I am, about three years later, heading to my second one. 

“It brings me a great deal of pride to know that, by pursuing my goals and working so hard, I’ve been able to achieve the targets I’ve set out for myself – the small ones and the really big ones, like qualifying for the Olympic Games.”

Hindsight teachings

Being an underdog as she headed to Tokyo, Rooskrantz might have been overawed by the magnitude of the stage she was on, as well as the opportunity to compete with the best athletes in her sport.

She did not make any of the finals, but recorded a personal best, which placed her 61st overall.

As Paris beckons, she is hoping the lessons learnt in Japan and the experience she has gained as an athlete and a person since then will see her adding another riveting chapter to her life story. She wants to see just how far she can push her mind and body.

“Going into Paris, I have a sense of confidence and just trusting in myself. Because you’ve made it to the Olympics, you put a lot of pressure on yourself because you understand that it’s this prestigious event. Only the best of the best are there and you want to be able to put your best foot forward. In that, you leave very little room for error,” Rooskrantz said.

Caitlin Rooskrantz

Caitlin Rooskrantz of Team South Africa competes on the uneven Bars at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games at Arena Birmingham on 30 July 2022. (Photo by Shaun Botterill / Getty Images)

“Once I started my journey to Paris, I said to myself that, going forward, I would be a lot more trusting of myself and my abilities, a lot more confident. I don’t have anything more to prove. I’ve done what I had to do.”

Yet, she is likely to be etched in history as one of South Africa’s greatest gymnasts when she eventually stops competing. She has a plethora of national and continental titles to support this assertion, including that memorable performance in Hungary and a Commonwealth Games bronze medal in 2022.

As a black woman, she has also broken down a number of racial mental barriers in a sport that was historically dominated by white gymnasts, taking the baton from someone like Jennifer Khwela, who was a trailblazing black South African gymnast in the 2000s.

“Anything after Tokyo has been a bonus,” Rooskrantz said. “I’ve been able to go full and test my abilities and test my limits to what I can do and do more of.

“Going to Paris, I’m just trying to soak in the journey – take in every minute of it, enjoy the preparation and then get to the Games and just give it my all.”

Roller coaster journey

Rooskrantz, now a final-year student at the University of Johannesburg studying BCom marketing management, has not always had a smooth journey to get where she is.

A serious knee injury in 2017 ruled her out of competition and training for several months. It also deprived her of the opportunity to compete at her first Commonwealth Games, staged in early 2018. 

It was a tough setback after she had been crowned national champion in 2016. However, after that lengthy absence, she returned with renewed energy and focus.

Getting back was all about “visualisation”, watching videos of her old routines and imagining doing them while she was injured. At the 2018 African Championships, she contributed to the team taking home silver when she won gold on the uneven bars.

“It was hard. It was extremely difficult at times, especially during the periods where we had numerous challenges to face,” her mother, Veda Rooskrantz-Sebueng, told Daily Maverick.

“From financial difficulties to me being a single mom, her managing school and full-time gymnastics, travelling overseas regularly. At times it felt like it was too much.”

Indeed, the journey was a roller coaster that included Rooskrantz-Sebueng sacrificing her career as a nurse in order to throw her weight behind her daughter’s dream. She had to do it alone, too, as Rooskrantz’s father died when she was just eight years old.

“It was not an easy task. But what I’ve come to learn is that I have grown in the process. I have become a better and stronger person. Now I can encourage other parents to take their children seriously,” Rooskrantz-Sebueng said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Chainsaw attack was ‘just another chapter’ in Mhlengi Gwala’s life — now he wants to conquer Paris 2024

“They have these dreams and they tell you, and sometimes you don’t think much of them. But it is real that sometimes they are born with this fire within them. Our job is to support them and encourage them, to give them the best that we can give at the time.

“I can say with certainty today that it has been worth every step along the way. All the hard times, all the literal tears and blood, all the pain and time – everything that we’ve invested.”

Rooskrantz-Sebueng highlighted the support of her daughter’s coach, Ilse Roets-Pelser, as well as that of the other parents whose children are part of the Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre family, as key components in her daughter’s success. She said at times Rooskrantz and Roets-Pelser had to drag her along during this journey, but the doting mother has no regrets. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R35.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Emily-Rose Steyn says:

    Wishing Caitlin all the best! So excited to watch her compete and will certainly be rooting for her!!

  • District Six says:

    Wonderful! Go, go, go, Caitlin!

  • Karin Swart says:

    Congratulations and best of luck, Caitlin. Your years of hard work, dedication, blood, sweat and tears are paying off (I know something about that because my son did gymnastics for 7 years and was quite successful here in the WC). You make us proud just by being there. Enjoy Paris too. 😉

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