On Sunday, 2 August, Caitlin Rooskrantz was meant to take to the bars as the first artistic gymnast to represent South Africa at the Olympics in 15 years. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the Games have had to be postponed.
So what did Caitlin do after all the hard work and preparation? She partnered with Sanlam to perform her routine via live stream from her training facilities in Johannesburg on the exact day she would have competed in Tokyo.
Where there is a will, there is a way.
GLAMOUR got to chat with this amazing star days before the the epic live stream. We are super stoked that not only is it happening but it is happening at the beginning of a month that celebrates everything women in South Africa.
We get to know Caitlin in 10 Questions:
Q: Tell us a little about how you discovered your love for gymnastics…
A: I was always a very busy kid, my parents were always yelling at me to calm down and stop jumping on all the furniture – I drove them crazy! So at the age of 6, a friend of theirs suggested they try to channel my energy by enrolling me in gymnastics classes. I started and immediately loved it. Training and practices have never felt like a schlep – I enjoy every day of training. Even when my training built up to 6 days a week, 5 hours a day – it has never felt like work.
Q: What setbacks have you experienced?
A: Being an elite gymnast, injury is a big part of the game; you don’t get far in this sport without a great deal of pain and learning to push past it. My first major setback was in 2014. I hurt my knee in training and was completely out of the game for the rest of the year. Then the next year, I hurt my ankle and couldn’t compete at Nationals. Then the year after that, I injured my other ankle. This meant that for three consecutive years (2013, 2014, 2015) I faced setback after setback after setback.
It felt like my biggest goals, everything I’d worked so hard for, kept on moving further and further away. It really demotivated me… to the point where, after coming back from a competition in Cape Town in 2015, I remember telling my mom, “I don’t want to do this anymore.”
I think every gymnast goes through at least one time when they think they’re going to quit… it’s the big test.
After that, with the support of my psychologist, mom and coach Ilse, I not only healed from my physical injuries but I came back stronger mentally…
Q: How so?
A: By the end of 2015, I was determined to come back in 2016 and give it everything I had. And I did. In 2016, I came back really strong – I won at the African Championships and I won at the Junior Olympics. I was then so geared towards my first year at the Senior Olympics, but I faced another setback: I had to have a knee operation in 2017 and was out for another 9 months. Even though I had qualified for the 2018 Commonwealth Games – I was medically declared unfit because of the time it took recovering from my knee surgery…
But again, I made a really big comeback. In 2018, I claimed my second consecutive African Championship title on bar, and also went on to win at Nationals. In 2019, I won my first international medal, and 3 weeks later, qualified for the Olympics at the World Champs in Stuttgart, Germany.
Q: Who is your inspiration?
A: My mom. Having lost my dad at 8, she had to raise my brother and I all on her own. She sacrificed a lot of herself – she gave up her full time job to be able to accommodate me – taking me to all the practices, picking me up when it was already dark, making sure there was dinner, every day. She just made it work… despite the complexities of it all.
Q: And your gymnastic heroes?
A: Two women particularly inspire me. First, Simone Biles. She has completely changed the name and game of gymnastics by bringing a lot of originality and her own skills to it. I think that’s what we are all wanting to do.
Secondly, Elisabeth Seitz. She is a German artistic gymnast and a World Champion. I’ve had the privilege of training with her and what stood out about her for me is that she’s also struggled with injuries and needed multiple surgeries, but she has always handled the setbacks with such grace. Her comeback was always stronger than her setback. And she does it all with the biggest smile on her face.
Q: What’s your proudest moment so far?
A: Can I have two? My first is definitely when I won the gold in Hungary. It was my first ever international medal, and it was a gold! I went in there with no expectations, or at least much lower ones: I just wanted to get into the finals. When I did, that was enough for me. Then in the finals, I did the routine of my life and got the highest score! Standing on that podium and hearing our national anthem playing felt incredible.
My second proudest moment was just 3 weeks later, going to the World Championships which was also the Olympic Qualifier. I started on beam, started well, but ended up falling on the second to last beam.
I knew that if you have a fall, your chances are very slim of making it any further so I was devastated. But my coach just hugged me and reminded me that I had 3 more apparatus to go… she said, “Don’t lose hope – you can make it up.” So I made a decision to fight until the very end – I gave the floor, bar and vault everything I had. And despite that fall, I came out as the top gymnast from SA. That, together with your overall score and where you cede overall determines whether or not you qualify for the Olympics.
When I received the news that I had qualified, I cried… I was just so happy that all those setbacks hadn’t kept me from achieving the dream I have had for so long.
And, being SA’s first artistic gymnast to qualify at an international Championship and the first artistic gymnast to represent our country at the Olympics in 15 years, just made it that much more significant.
Q: How did you deal with the disappointment of finding out the Olympics had been postponed?
A: It was a big shock, but I don’t think I’ve given up on anything in my life – I always try to find another way through. I told my coach: the dream hasn’t changed, only the timeline has shifted….
I also began to think about the big positives. Firstly, it’s postponed not cancelled. And secondly, I have more time to prepare – to upgrade my routines, to get more difficulty in, to perfect my execution. To get even better.
Q: Training during lockdown – how was that?
A: We focussed on general fitness, strength training and flexibility. Our coach and our team would hold daily marathon zoom sessions, and she’d mix it up – we’d sometimes do ballet, or dance, we had psychology sessions and had sessions with a dietician… all the things we wouldn’t usually have time for.
Since my comeback though, I’ve realised afresh how much I love this sport – it was hell for me not being in the gym every day, because the JGC has become like family – we’re used to seeing each other every day. Physically though, it was so hard to get back on that apparatus… the first few weeks were really challenging – my hands had to bleed and reform all the callouses they used to have and my shoulders ached!
Q: When Sanlam approached you with the idea to perform your routine for SA via live stream from your training facilities in JHB on the day you would have performed at the Olympics in Tokyo, how did you feel?
A: I was ecstatic. After months of intense training in preparation for the Olympics, having the opportunity to still be able to perform my routine for South Africa in this way, is incredibly exciting.
This partnership with Sanlam is also particularly meaningful for me on a personal level. The ‘Now is the time to plan’ message really resonated with me because it’s exactly where I am in my life right now. With the postponement of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, I've been given the opportunity to plan and strategise to up my game to be able to perform at my best. Sanlam is also a leader, pioneer and innovator in their field and I consider myself to be the same in gymnastics. We make an AWESOME team.
Q: What would you say to others whose dreams have been disrupted?
A: Keep your eyes on your goal or dream, it will come around again. If you want it really badly – wait and work for it. Don’t give up. I wanted to go to the Olympics from the age of 11, yet growing up, I never knew one person who had actually gotten there. It was such a far-fetched and unrealistic dream – but it’s actually happening!