For most athletes, competing at the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of their careers. For South African teenager Caitlin Rooskrantz, July 2, 2020 in the Japanese capital of Tokyo would have been no different.
On this day, she would have signalled to the judges that she was ready to perform her routine on the uneven bars. The teenager from Johannesburg last year became the first South African gymnast to qualify for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in over a decade.
What made the achievement even more special, is that Rooskrantz achieved the qualification amid tough competition at the World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany and not via arguably an easier, continental route. When you add becoming the first South African to qualify for the Olympics at a Gymnastics World Championships to the young South African’s impressive CV, the feat becomes even more impressive.
With an Olympic berth secured, the Parktown Girls High matriculant and her coach Ilse Pelser set about the task of preparing her for Tokyo debut. Couple that with what many South African athletes unfortunately have to do these day, fundraising to actually get her to Japan. Pelser explains that the gym is a not-for-profit establishment and relies on everything from raffles and jumble sales to make do.
In the meantime, Rooskrantz matriculated and was planning to take a gap-year in order to fully prepare for the Games.
Then, in March 2020, four months before the start of the Olympic Games, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic hit South Africa hard when a nationwide lockdown was announced by President Ramaphosa.
The consequences of the pandemic was such that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games was postponed for a year to July 2021.
This, however, would not deter young Caitlin as she sees fulfilling her dream as being simply delayed. During the lockdown, she maintained close contact with coach Pelser and remained in peak fitness.
So much so, that on Sunday, August 2, 2020, the exact day that she would have announced herself at the 32nd Olympiad, she performed her Olympic routine for all to see on the live, online stream.
A relieved Ilse Pelser whispered as the pair embraced afterwards: “ Jor! (I was) stressing!”
Then athlete and coach exited, stage left. For now.
Caitlin Rooskrantz will be back next year in Tokyo…
Where she will fly the South African flag high up.