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#ExtraTime with top SA gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz

In the latest instalment of #ExtraTime, we speak to South Africa's star gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz who opens up about her 12-year journey to the top, and what qualifying for the Olympic Games means to her.

SA gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz. Picture: Supplied

Caitlin Rooskrantz’s mother, Veda gave up her full-time job for a part-time one to make sure her daughter didn’t miss gymnastics practice and that nothing stood in the way of her progress.

Rooskrantz was a busy child, climbing and jumping off furniture and quite literally bouncing off the walls. To channel her energy Veda enrolled her daughter into gymnastics classes at the age of 6 to tire her out. By the time she turned 8, it was clear that Caitlin had a natural ability to excel at the sport.

“My parents say I was like a full-time job on its own. They could never leave me alone for two seconds, because I was trying to climb on the walls, and jumping off the couch. I was just a hazard to myself. A few of my parents’ friends recommended gymnastics to them. My parents are from a small community in Potchefstroom, so they didn’t know much about the sport at all. It first started off as a hobby. A few years I was competing and then a year later I was put into high performance, and then things started accelerating for me,” Rooskrantz said.

“Gymnastics is something that never felt very hard for me. It felt like it came naturally and easy to me, with high levels of training from a young age. I enjoyed it. I won the national title of the Level 6, when I was 11 years old in the high-performance category. It was a good year for me. That was also the first year I travelled overseas. I had a training camp in Australia, and then my first international competition in Serbia. It was at that point I realised this is what I wanted to do,” she said.

But the life of a gymnast requires hours and hours of practice, risking injury with every jump, twist and turn. It was similar leaps of faith that inspired Veda to ensure her daughter gets every opportunity to reach her dreams. She would do the school drop off, pick up and drop off at training, on repeat, five or six days every week.

“I just matriculated last year, so my life revolved around school and practice. It was my life for the past 12 years. I had morning training from 6.30 to 8.30am, and then straight from there we’d go to school, and at 2.30pm when school finishes I would go straight back to gym for our full session which was four-and-a-half hours,” Rooskrantz said. “We’d finish training by 7.30pm, then it’s shower, eat and start my homework. I’m in bed by 10.30pm or 11pm and the cycle starts again.”

Rooskrantz rewarded her mother’s faith in her almost immediately, by winning competitions throughout the age groups, as her star burned brighter each year. It culminated in Rooskrantz winning gold last year at the World Challenge Cup in Hungary, and then qualifying for the Olympics with a points haul of 49.466 at the 2019 Artistic Gymnastics World Championship in Stuttgart.

The Olympic Games in Tokyo this year seemed perfectly timed with Rooskrantz’s gap year after finishing matric. The postponement of the Games has not only hampered her expectations for this year, but the lockdown itself threatens hers and her team’s physical fitness.

“We thought I’d take a gap year, fully focus on the Olympics, train as much as we can, put everything in place to accommodate my training, and then start studying next year. Now the Olympics has been postponed and that whole plan fell flat,” she said. “It’s been the most frustrating thing I’ve ever experienced. In all my years of the sport, the longest time we’ve ever gotten off is about two weeks. In the life of a gymnast you lose your strength and flexibility so quickly you can’t afford to take that much time off. I feel like I’m going crazy because I’m not used to be being at home for so long.”

In a sport that is often ignored until someone like Rooskrantz comes along to inspire the country’s Olympic dreams, the lack of resources and funding are major, daily obstacles gymnastics has to overcome, if more stars like Rooskrantz are unearthed. “I went through 12 years of preparation to get to where I am, when we had minimal compared to gymnasts at our level from other countries. The German national team are fully supported by their government. For them gymnastics is like rugby for us. They have all the sponsors; they have the government support and top class facilities. When they get selected to the national team it’s like a job. They get paid to be there. But when you look at us, we didn’t have half of what they had … Only until we get the support from our own country, then will we start moving up the rankings in the world. But I’ve definitely seen a change with our generation, with us breaking boundaries in the sport. The South African Gymnastics Federation has back us all the way and been there for us and made opportunities possible which we are eternally grateful for.”