South Africa’s Caitlin Rooskrantz: ‘I am recharged and ready to give it my all’

Written by John Crumlish for International Gymnast Online

Friday, September 2, 2022

Photo courtesy of Else Roets-Pelser

A young woman of substance, skill and ambition, South African gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz continues to define herself as a history-making gymnast, university honor student and societal role model.

Born November 5, 2001, in Johannesburg, Rooskrantz trains under coach Else Roets-Pelser at Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre. Her international bests include first on uneven bars at the 2018 African Championships, first on uneven bars at the 2019 Challenge Cup of Szombathely, first on uneven bars and sixth on balance beam at this spring’s World Cup of Cairo and first all-around at the African Championships in Cairo in July.

Rooskrantz’s history-making achievements for her country include her distinction as South Africa’s first female gymnast to qualify outright for the Olympic Games, a feat she accomplished through her performance at the 2019 World Championships in Stuttgart, which served as a qualification competition for last summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. She went on to place 61st all-around in qualifications in Tokyo. (South Africa’s Zandre Labuschange received a continental berth to the 2004 Athens Games; Naveen Daries, Rooskrantz’s training partner at JGC, later qualified for Tokyo via the 2021 African Championships in Cairo.)

Rooskrantz and Daries also became the first two female gymnasts of color to represent South Africa in Olympic competition – a source of inspiration for Roets-Pelser.

“This is something I’m very proud of, because they have shown South Africans that gymnastics is for everyone,” Roets-Pelser said. “The two of them don’t just inspire the future generations, they also inspire me. I count myself as extremely fortunate to coach these two girls, alongside their teammates. Our resources, in comparison to the top countries, are very limited, but they don’t let it stand in the way of their commitment and dedication, and I have great respect for that.”

Rooskrantz, an honor student at the University of Johannesburg and a speaker at Forbes Woman Africa’s 2020 Leading Women Summit in Durban, is on a competitive roll as she heads towards this fall’s World Championships in Liverpool.

Following her all-around victory at the African Championships held July 9-11 in Cairo, Rooskrantz placed ninth all-around and third on uneven bars at the Commonwealth Games held July 29-August 2 in Birmingham. Her bronze on uneven bars was South Africa’s second women’s artistic gymnastics medal in Games history and its first gymnastics medal since Jennifer Khwela’s silver on vault at the 2010 Games in New Delhi.

In the following International Gymnast Online interviews, Rooskrantz and Roets-Pelser share their incentives and expectations on their journey towards the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Caitlin Rooskrantz: ‘I have a lot of potential to unlock’

IGO: 2022 has been a momentous year for you, winning South Africa’s first Commonwealth Games medal since 2010 and qualifying for Liverpool by winning the African all-around title as a big step closer to Paris. With at least these three major competitions on your calendar for 2022, and each very important for its own reasons, how are you pacing yourself so you can achieve the goals you set for each of them, and reaching your ultimate peak in Liverpool?

CR: This year has been extremely busy yet a very eventful year indeed. The season started off early in the year and on a great note where I won the gold medal at the Cairo World Cup on bars. Entering September already I have managed to get a few more medals behind my name – namely the all-around and bars African Championship titles as well as recently walking away from the Commonwealth Games with the first-ever bronze medal on bars. Arriving back from this momentous achievement I took a week to rest, and have been taking it a little easier in the gym in order catch up and get back into all my university work back. The step back gave me enough time to recharge and mentally take a bit of a rest to ensure in that the next few weeks leading up the the World Championships in Liverpool I am recharged, and ready to give my all going into the last big event of the year. 

IGO: After a long and successful build-up to Tokyo, how and where did you find a new wave of motivation to try for another Games in Paris in 2024?

CR: After the Games in Tokyo last year I took a full month of complete rest from the sport. It was exactly what my body needed after the intense preparation for the Games. We also made the decision to not do the World Championships last year, as the turnaround would’ve been too short. Mentally, I needed the break so I was very happy with that decision. I think taking time away after the Games also allowed me to take in everything I had experienced and ignited a new fire inside me to carry on until Paris again. I believe I am still young and still have a lot of potential to unlock, and I mean it’s Paris! It’s my favourite city in the world, so getting to compete at the Olympics again, in Paris with my family there to support me, is all the motivation I ever needed. 

IGO: How do you remain open and agreeable to the media and public attention you receive, and the demands on your time that being a role model require, while keeping your focus mainly on your training regimen?

CR: To me it’s always been about a good balance of everything. After receiving more and more media and public attention as the months passed, I had to learn to manage it between my training and school work. When I made the decision to start studying this year I had to really start focusing on my time management again. Where I am at in my career right now, my training does take preference but being a full-time university student, a great deal of my time is also focused on that. But making the time to also try and squeeze in media work here and there is just as important to me, as it’s all about the representation. It is extremely important to me to get all the exposure I can get as a woman of color, in a sport like gymnastics in my country. To do everything I can within my own capacity to get our sport more exposure, recognition, funding and support from all angles. To also ensure that I am able to inspire the upcoming generation to not only reach the heights we did but to be better than we are and keep pushing the sport forward in our country. 

IGO: At what point in your career did you start to realize your impact on youth, and specifically young women, beyond sports in South Africa?

CR: I think after I qualified for the Olympics back in 2019 and began receiving all the media attention, it started becoming pretty clear to me the massive impact I had on little girls, people of color, the youth and the sports world in general. A big part of my “why” for continuing to try and achieve greater and greater heights each year was to be an example and testament of hard work to the younger and upcoming gymnasts. I want to show them that your hard work will indeed pay off in the end in some shape, way or form. And, that in the end, when you’ve gone through all the hardship and difficulty and you’ve achieved whatever dream you had your eye on, it will indeed all be worth it. 

IGO: What are some of your proudest accomplishments outside of your gymnastics, and why do these achievements or moments stand out to you?

CR: My first big biggest personal accomplishment is that I managed to buy my own first car just over two years ago. I saved for a while and achieved this all on my own, which is something I am extremely proud of. I got accepted into the University of Johannesburg this year. I then also attained a full-ride scholarship. A big achievement I do recognize is that I passed my first semester with two distinctions after traveling very frequently for competitions in-between. This is a massive achievement for me as being a full-time university student is already difficult on its own, yet I attained two distinctions while passing all my other modules while I was still traveling and competing successfully. 

IGO: We understand that your mom has had to sacrifice a lot to support your gymnastics career. However, what if any additional opportunities to fund your gymnastics have you been able to utilize since you became successful?

CR: I am fortunate that I get some support from our department of sport as well as our federation. My club also supports me where possible, but as we are a non-profit organization, it isn’t always easy. I was meant to attend the Paris World Cup event (in late September) as a preparation for Worlds in Liverpool, but as I have to fund myself, I will no be able to attend. Despite some shortcomings I am very grateful for any support I do get. My next big goal is to try to help my club get an FIG-certified floor, as we don’t have one, and I know this will help me and my teammates improve even more.

IGO: Many athletes these days are using their visibility as a platform, on social media and elsewhere, for sharing and promoting their personal views on causes and issues. What aspects of your sports life as well as personal life do you find most urgent and potentially influential to share with the general public?

CR: Personally, I’ve always just wanted be authentic about who I am on social media. Yes, gymnastics is a major part of my life and I’ve always made that very clear on my social media. But I also want to show everyone that I do not have a perfectly put-together life where I am always winning and succeeding, because that is not the case. I am still human and do go through what every other human goes through. I have bad days and competitions that do not go as planned, and I am not always 100% motivated or driven. I have days where I do struggle to get out of bed, and struggle to find the motivation to tackle other days. 

I also try to be very transparent about when I am out of competition season. I do enjoy a good time with my friends to celebrate, relax and unwind. So I am trying to build a good brand around my social media pages while still being authentically me.

Photo courtesy of Else Roets-Pelser

IGO: Thus far you have achieved your top apparatus results on uneven bars. What changes and upgrades are required for you to challenge for a spot in the final at Liverpool?

CR: I have added a small upgrade for Liverpool, but my goal is to try to do the 5.9 start value with an 8.0 or higher execution score, which will be my highest international score on uneven bar. Then I will see where I place with that before upgrading again. My coach and I believe in taking it one step at a time, so we are not just focusing on upgrades, but also improving my execution. My longer-term goal is definitely to make a bars final at the world championships, and it would be a dream come true.

IGO: Also looking ahead to Liverpool, as well as the 2023 Worlds and ultimately Paris, what do you think you can add to or reinforce in your all-around program so you can aim for a spot on the world and Olympic all-around finals?

CR: Ilse and I have spoken about this goal so much, and we know what type of total would need to look like. I achieved an international personal best, in terms of all-around score, in Tokyo and again in Cairo, so I’m just continually making small D(ifficulty)-score upgrades, but focusing a great deal on my Execution score, too . I want to be the first South African female gymnast to achieve this, but I know it will happen when and if it is supposed to.

Ilse Roets-Pelser: ‘Caitlin is very humble, focused and highly driven’

IGO: Having coached Caitlin from her early years as a promising international competitor to an Olympian in 2021, how have you adjusted your training plan for her heading toward Paris?

IRP: This cycle is shorter, as we now only have three years in between Tokyo and Paris, so instead of taking a few months off after Tokyo, Caitlin could only take a month and then we were right back at it. She started university this year, so her training hours are slightly less, but more intense and focussed, often with only her and a few teammates in the gym training at a time.

IGO: How do you keep Caitlin from thriving in the attention she is receiving and in her status as a role model for upcoming gymnasts, while keeping her mentally still focused primarily on her training?

IRP: Caitlin is a very humble, focused and highly driven individual, and coaching her is easy. She comes in, works hard and then goes to university to carry on the hard work and diligence there. Although she enjoys the attention, she doesn’t let anything go to her head, because her focus and energy are spent on her training, recovery, studies and then, of course, a limited but balanced social life.

She is a leader and our youngsters look up to her immensely. I’m very proud of how she juggles so much without letting anything slide. Gymnastics is very important to her so she works everything in her life around her gymnastics goals, and that is what keeps her focused and fun to work with.

IGO: Having coached many gymnasts over the years, what combination of physical and psychological attributes make Caitlin not only unique but as successful as she is?  

IRP: Mentally she is a fierce competitor and even when things don’t go according to plan, as they sometimes will, she can bounce back. She has been first up on three occasions this year, on her favorite event, and by the time the Commonwealth bars final came around this year, where she was first up again, she said to me, “You know Ils, this is a good thing. I like going first up, because I’ve been practicing that a lot this year, and in all cases I went clean, so this is a good sign.” That is Caitlin – strong and determined.

Physically she has improved her general strength and flexibility so much over the last two years, and enjoys her strength and conditioning training with her conditioning coach, Francois Visser. She also loves her new floor routine choreographed by Commonwealth silver medalist in 2018, Latalia Bevin. She trusts her coaches at the Johannesburg Gymnastics Centre and really believes in the programs set for her, snd it’s very seldom that she doesn’t finish the assignment for the day.

I think she is in her best shape yet, so I’m excited to see what 2023 brings for her, as she has had a tremendous Tokyo Olympics, Cairo World Cup, African Championships and Commonwealth Games in the last 13 months.

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