Katy Szabo: “I happily come to Romania, the country that humiliated me so many times!” @ Jurnalul National

From Jurnalul National

After a two year break, the ex great gymnast Ecaterina Szabo returned to Romania, to visit her natal village Zagon, in Covasna. “I´m just visiting with the kids” she says, although deep down she hopes one day she will return to stay in the house where she was born on the 22nd of January, 1968. Ecaterina Szabo underwent surgery in 2010 to solve some back problems, but the pain has not completely gone away. “The pain started in 2008 and for the next 2 years I hoped it will go way. I had surgery in May of last year. There´s a long term rehabilitation, with no immediate results. I´m having problems with 4 vertebrae, but I´ve just had surgery for one. I don´t know what to say when I think I still have 3 ahead of me. The important thing is I´ve come back home, together with my 2 kids” said Ecaterina Szabo for Covasna´s 3szek.ro website.

Before getting to Zagon, the gymnast stopped by Sibiu for the launch of Maria Daniela P?n?zan´s book “The history of Romanian gymnastics”. There, she met some of her pupils such as Maria Olaru, Stela Nistor or Marilena Neac?u. “I miss coaching, the kids, the gym, competitions. When my kids will be on their own, I´ll return home with my husband. Then I will be able to catch up with everything I lost during my gymnastics childhood. My parents are buried here, it´s here where I feel at home.”

Beaten by the Karoly duo
When she was 6 years old, the young athlete arrived at the Onesti center, where Bela and Martha were coaching. “I started school in Onesti. This was the first school in the world specialized in gymnastics. Every 2 weeks I went back home, 70km away, but my parents also came to visit. It was a difficult time in my life. I went away from my family, my friends, from childhood. Everything was calculated. We could eat very little. Those who could not keep up were eliminated immediately. They used to weigh us many times a day. There were really strict measures and this was the key for success. The famous gymnasts ignored us, they were indifferent. No one expected us to compete with them. Stress and hard work consumed us up to exhaustion. Not to forget that the coaches used to beat us. I lost count of the beatings, I only remember what remained after them: my body was covered in stripes in different colors, from red to blue to black. We were kids, there was another system, we had nothing to say. I wanted to leave the center once, so I called my mother to come pick me up. But when she got there, I had gotten over it. My mum had a talk with Bela and he told her – do you see those Romanian gymnasts next to the wall? I will never beat them, because I don´t see anything in them. They will not be average gymnasts, but your daughter actually has talent. – They talked in Hungarian, although at that time they were not allowed to use it. We could not even listen to Hungarian music.”

Four gold medals in Los Angeles
Ecaterina started being successful in 1983. Winning the gold medal on floor at the World Championships in Budapest and the 2 European gold medals on floor and uneven bars she won in Göteborg turned Katy into one of the favorites for the 1984 Olympic title. “My main rival was Mary-Lou Retton, coached by Bela Karoly, who had remained in America in 1981. Because we were isolated, news about the Socialist countries´ boycott didn´t reach us until a few days before the Olympics. The way we were working, we were certain we would be there. I had a good routine and I trusted I could win against any competitor. Retton was the best on vault. I had not trained this apparatus much, I was counting on the rest. In the end I won 4 gold medals. I could have won 5 but Bela was so influential that one of the gold medals had to be for the Americans. The lights were put out for 15 minutes before my routine so that I would fail. Winning only silver hurts, I deserved more. I was happy only for a few minutes while I heard the anthem. Leaving the podium, I was thinking everything would start all over again tomorrow.”

Reward: they painted her room

After the American Olympics, Ecaterina Szabo was certain she had reached the peak of her career and that she could not top this achievement, but coming back home left her with troubling memories. “When I returned home, they completely ignored me, I hadn´t hoped for much either. Politicians were hugging the other team members, without noticing me, although I had brought home 4 gold medals and Romania was on the podium. I did not go on a tour of the country, as Nadia had done. Nobody asked me how I was, how I felt. Only the people in Zagon and around received me as a champion and wanted to thank me. Some wrote me poems, the Party´s secretary found a way to paint my room, people in the village filled our yard with flowers, I received letters but that was it. They promised a car for each gold medal – we didn´t get anything. They promised 50,000 lei for gold – they gave us less than a quarter of what they promised. I didn´t even have the courage to demand an explanation, I was continually humiliated. They did not include me in the team before big competitions. But when they saw the results were not good, they called me back. I could not be as good as in LA because I was excluded from the centralized training.” remembers the ex gymnast with sadness.

Katalyn, not Ecaterina
“After so many years, I think it´s time for me to know why they changed my name from Katalyn, like my birth certificate shows, to Ecaterina, when my parents had not named me so and they were never consulted. They also wanted to change my family name to Sab?u. I also want to know why they modified my birthday to be able to go to certain competitions that had an age limit. Many people are not happy with who I was and what I did. I felt bad for a long time, but now I can speak out. I want to know why I was called a foreigner, someone without a country, when I achieved so much for Romania.” Katy Szabo wonders, although she is certain she will never find an answer.

“I´m my son´s hero”
Katy Szabo retired after the 1988 Seoul Olympics. “After so many years in gymnastics, I did not benefit from it financially. I started from scratch, by myself. I got my license for coaching and I trained in Deva, where I discovered a couple of talented gymnasts. I left for France with my husband and I coached in Chemallieres. The kids, Lorenzo and Zeno, were born here. At school, Lorenzo was asked to name a hero and he named me. It´s worth to live for moments like this.”

To honor the gymnast, the Zagon kindergarten is named after her and so is the Sports Arena in Sfântu Gheorghe. Deva´s mayor promised, three years ago, to build a new gymnastics center which would be named after Ecaterina Szabo.

Ecaterina Szabo

  • 1980 – Youth European Championships, Lyon – 4 gold medals (UB, beam, vault, floor)
  • 1982 – Youth European Championships, Ankara – 2 gold medals (all around, floor), 1 silver medal (UB), 1 bronze (vault)
  • 1983 – European Championships, Göteborg – 2 gold medals (UB, floor), 1 silver (vault), 1 bronze (all around)
  • 1983 – World Championships, Budapest – gold (floor), silver (vault, UB, team), bronze (all around)
  • 1984 – Olympic Games, Los Angeles – gold (vault, beam, floor, team), silver (all around)
  • 1985 – Universiade, Kobe – gold (vault, beam), silver (all around, team, UB, floor)
  • 1985 – World Championships, Montreal – silver (vault, beam, team)
  • 1985 – European Championships, Helsinki – bronze (vault)
  • 1987 – World Championships, Rotterdam – gold (team), bronze (beam)


8 Responses to Katy Szabo: “I happily come to Romania, the country that humiliated me so many times!” @ Jurnalul National

  1. […] fangymnastics – Katy Szabo: “I happily come to Romania, the country that humiliated me so many times!” @ Jurnal… Print […]

  2. Gymplaza says:


  3. […] Read more on Fangymnastics […]

  4. Steve says:

    Ironically, or rather, truly annoyingly, the original article sticks to her romanized name, calling her Ecaterina right in the title, showing proof of an ongoing Romanian nationalist agenda of a very vulgar nature. Even when she incriminates the arbitrary change of her name, the article fails to spell her real name, Katalin, correctly. There is no such thing as ‘Katalyn’ in Hungarian. One would think she has long earned the universal respect that would prompt a journalist to care about her name, but no. Not in Romania, the country she sacrificed her youth for.

    You may think this matter is of little importance, but you would be surprised to find how regular and consistent this sort of name-spoiling is in Romania. Living there in the Ceausescu era, I always suspected there was a secret directive for all the media to not spell any Hungarian names correctly. I was proven right by the revelations that came after the 1989 changes. This was part of the arsenal in a cold war against the Hungarian minority, treated as universal scapegoat and attention-diverting matter in the context of a decade-long economic hardship.

    Times are supposed to be totally different now, Romania entered the European Union in 2007. So much more baffling to see this vile “tradition” maintained and cultivated.

  5. Steven says:

    I watched her live at the 1984, Los Angeles Olympics; she was incredibly talented, elegant, she delivered a beautifully executed program. Her video footages are real testimonials of her accomplishments as a gymnast and true contributions to a country that did not appreciate her nor deserved her.

    God endowed her with an incredible talent, willpower, discipline, noble soul and competitive spirit, striving towards achieving perfection and excellence.
    I’m greatly saddened how the Romanian leaders treated and sidelined her that totally capsized her carrier as a gymnast. I’ve also learned about the health problems she’s recently struggling with.

    Szabo Katalin, you’ve made and incredible contribution to the world of gymnastics, you’ll be always remembered as T R U E G O L D !
    If I had the appropriate funds on my personal account, I would definitely write you that Million Dollar Check that you rightfully deserve! You’ve earned every Penny of it…

  6. sekar says:

    Unforgettable performance by an undoubtedly talented girl. Since I have not seen Nadia performing I can vouch for the fact that the grace with which our Ekaterina szabo performed enthralling millions of audience throughout the world can never be forgotten by anyone. So sorry to learn now that she was never given any due respect by the country for which she won so many golds just because she was a Hungarian is heart breaking. Feelings and prayers for the legend.
    An Indian fan

  7. Elleana says:

    It is absolutely heart-breaking to hear this back story of the first gymnast that turned my great “like” for gymnastics into a true love for it. As an American & being a gymnast, you would think it would’ve been Mary Lou or maybe even Nadia. But, it was Szabo’s uniqueness, grace, style and something truly special that illuminated through her performance that captured my pre-teen gymnast heart. NO ONE did gymnastics the way she did. Not having been subjected to a life under such a strict, dictatorial governmental regime, I will never be able to understand the ignorance & stupidity behind the decisions made, such as trying to erase a person’s heritage & actually changing their name because of it. Even more ridiculous is how important it was for a teenage gymnast to have a Romanian name as opposed to Hungarian when the only people in the world who would’ve known the difference are those who lived under those regimes. The rest of the world, whom by the way these regimes were trying to impress, could’ve cared less! The world only knew that Romania had yet another arsenal in this beautifully gifted gymnast who showed a new standard of world class gymnastics, period. She proved the Romanian legacy went far beyond Nadia & the Karolyis. And, knowing the treatment she received after the Olympics is even more appalling & heartbreaking to know. This gymnast proved that Romania was still on top of the world even without Nadia & the Karolyis. She didn’t win the All-Around in Los Angeles, but even in America, those in the gymnastics community (which, by the way, is HUGE) knew who the best gymnast really was, silver medal or not, and talked about it incessantly. How could bringing home one silver medal be more important than the 4 gold medals brought home from the same competition?!!! I mean, not only did Szabo win gold medals on 3 out of 4 events, but the fact that one of those medals was won over the so-called Olympic champion on her absolute best event should’ve been sweet revenge to a government so invested in showing they are the best. Uh…Katy made it pretty clear to the world that subjective judging can only go so far & I find it astonishing the Romanian government didn’t revel in her obvious “I told you so” to the world by taking home the most gold medals of any female gymnast at the olympics. To find out how she was treated after proving exactly what the government wanted is revolting. It breaks my heart because I can’t imagine what it must’ve done to Katalin (this name is even more beautiful than Ecaterina – funny how her real name seems to suit her better) emotionally, psychologically & spiritually. Spending your life doing & showing exactly what your government wants to portray to the world only to be rejected by not only them, but by your countrymen – the real people who have nothing to do with the government who should’ve been proud. It’s horrendous to think about. The only reason I write & even feel emotional about it is because Katy opened up something in me that I didn’t know I had a couple of years before the 1984 Olympics at the age of 12. To know that a person whom you’ve never met & have only ever seen behind a tv screen that had the power to spark in light inside of you just by doing what they do was actually life-changing at that time in my life. So, I want to hear about all the wonderful things that have happened to her because I just believed she deserved only wonderful things seeing how she was such a positive & special influence to me. To this day, there are only 3 gymnasts that brought out a special spark in me & gave me a true love for the sport & only 2 who touched my soul through their gymnastics. I actually didn’t realize it until now because I also loved watching some of the Soviet gymnasts, but it just so happens they’re all from Romania (Szabo & Silivas touched my soul, and i believe Dobre would have if I would have seen her more. She did, however, light a spark like both Szabo & Silivas did). But, it started with Katalin. She was the one. I don’t know why or how, but she did. It may be of no consolation, but I hope she realizes she was more than just a Romanian gymnast. If she had the ability to touch my heart so profoundly just by living & doing just one gift God obviously gave her, there’s no doubt in my mind that there are MILLIONS of others hearts she touched just as profoundly. I just truly hope the horrible experiences she had didn’t dim her light. I hope she has had more experiences now that have shown her just how extraordinary she is just by being who she is.

  8. Ioana says:

    I do hope Katalin realizes there is a really big difference between the communist officials and the regular people in Romania, even back in those days. I, too, remember her luminous performance at the Olympics and remember thinking of her as an immensely talented gymnast, with poise, presence and a lot of grace. Never knew about her name, though — it was always Ecaterina… All I can say is… don’t let the propaganda machine ruin the knowledge that you have truly inspired and influenced so many youngsters back home — of any ethnicity. Whether in gymnastics or elsewhere, your performance and character have left a big impact on us all. Thank you, from Bucharest…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.