SA’s star gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz ready to give it all at Tokyo Olympics
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CAPE TOWN - The weight of becoming the first woman of colour to represent South Africa in gymnastics at the Olympic Games rested heavily on the shoulders of 19-year-old Caitlin Rooskrantz.
Rooskrantz, from Johannesburg, took the world by storm when she won gold at the 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Cup Challenge event in Szombathely, Hungary. This was enough to qualify her for the Tokyo Olympics.
Qualifying for the Olympics had a huge impact on her career.
"Achieving the qualification was something I had been working towards for years, and having achieved that huge goal under such a great deal of pressure at the time was incredible," said Rooskrantz.
"Yes, I had achieved a big goal for myself, but I had no idea I had also made history for my country.
"When I arrived back [from Hungary] to a swarm of media interviews and huge hype, I was made aware that I was the first to qualify for the prestigious Games directly at the World Championships. I was also told that I was the first SA woman of colour in gymnastics to do so.
"A very proud moment for me!"
Rooskrantz's qualification for a plan to prepare for the Olympics. Her coach Ilse Pelser was a driving force behind the plan.
"In terms of my road map to the Olympic Games, there were many who hand a hand in getting me here, said Rooskrantz.
"When I qualified for the games, I believed that it wasn’t just me who had qualified, but also my team.
"It was a goal we had all worked towards for many years. My coach Ilse Pelser was the main force that drove me. My team of other coaches, teammates, medical staff and federation all contributed in their way.
"My mom and family also carried me through the many hard years of getting where we are."
Rooskrantz was pleased with the preparation for Tokyo. She has no concerns about her condition and well-being.
"I feel pretty good about where I am right now, said Rooskrantz. "I sustained a minor ankle injury at the African Championships a few weeks ago, but I am training full out again and doing much better.
"I have also done so many repetitions over the months and years within all my preparation that I still feel strong, fit, confident and ready to give it my all."
At the African Championships in May, another SA female gymnast of colour Naveen Daries secured Olympic qualification. They are the only two SA gymnasts in Tokyo.
Rooskrantz had a few opportunities to train abroad. This will help her to compete on the Olympic global stage. Some of the countries where she has trained have excellent training facilities and a wealth of coaching expertise.
"I have trained abroad quite often," said Rooskrantz. "I trained alongside the German national team a couple of times. This was an incredible learning experience.
"Gymnasts in first-world countries like Germany are well supported and have a lot of advantages. Things like funding, corporate sponsorship and world-class facilities are the norm there and making a career out of gymnastics is more than sustainable.
"South Africans do not have these advantages and it makes it very difficult to stay on par with them.
"They also have access to regular international competitions, and this helps to gain world-class competition experience. Gymnasts from South Africa will find it much more challenging on the global stage.
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Rooskrantz has kept in shape but missed out on the vital competition, needed to keep her razor-sharp for Tokyo.
"We have had opportunities to stay in shape over the past few months," said Rooskrantz. "Our coaches and federation have made many small closed ‘competition structured’ events possible for us knowing the of Covid situation.
"It’s been hard to get any international competitions under our belts, but we have done many inland competitions to ensure we peak at the correct time.
South African gymnasts are faced with many challenges but are not serious enough to deny athletes from reaching the Olympic Games.
"We do have access to training facilities when needed," said Rooskrantz. "We might not have world-class facilities at our fingertips, but I can say with confidence, we have made incredible strides with what we have."
Donovan Jurgens, President of Gymnastics South Africa, said the women's teams from China and the United States have been the most successful at the last three Olympics, and there are reasons for that.
"The US has a population of over 330 million people and more than 200 000 registered gymnasts," said Jurgens.
"China has a population of 1.4 billion although fewer registered gymnasts. As it is for most sports, the bigger countries will dominate because they have much more resources at their disposal.
"We have prepared our two gymnasts, Caitlin and Naveen as best as we can with support from Government, Lotto and SASCOC. Our gymnasts will be performing at their full potential.
"No country from Africa has ever won a medal in Artistic Gymnastics at the Olympics.
"I want our gymnasts and their coaches to have a safe trip and participate in the true spirit of Olympism. They must learn as much as they can and continue to inspire the many South Africans that will be watching.
"To make it to the Olympics is a massive achievement, and their participation will be an inspiration to the new generation of gymnasts.
"Sport, and specifically gymnastics, is for everyone. With hard work and determination, anyone can make it onto the Olympic stage.
"It all starts with a simple tumble, skip or jump."
Both SA gymnasts will be in action on Sunday.