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Supple superstar Szabo calls time on a stellar career

Szabo

By Mark Etheridge

South African athlete Nicole Szabo has been hanging around bars for what seems an uneven amount of time… but now she’s finally called time!

And before anyone gets any idea about what the country’s top athletes are up to, those are gymnastics bars, not those of a more recreational type.

The Johannesburg gymnast has been studying at the University of Illinois in Chicago, United States for four years now, but has decided to swop leotards for more leisure time.

The 22-year-old took time to reflect on her time as a student and sportswomen and give some inspiration to the next generation of South African gymnasts.

‘Looking back at my time here at UIC as a student athlete, I couldn’t be more thankful to have been given this opportunity. Coming in as a freshman, not knowing anyone or anything, to becoming the person I am today has been a successful journey but not an easy one. Freshman year seemed like a blur because everything was so foreign and I was just getting used to the different cultures, training and classes.

‘Sophomore year was the year I moved into an apartment, enjoying the freedom in Chicago but junior year was the highlight of the four years in college. I moved into a different apartment with my best friends, took classes I enjoyed and also had the best year as a gymnast at UIC. I competed consistently on three events, took multiple first place titles on bars and was also the Illinois champion on the uneven bars with a career high of 9.875.

‘Finally, senior year was a year of lasts. Last time I conditioned with my team, last practice, last workout in the weight room, last time wearing a leotard, last competition..

‘And I could just go on and on. It was definitely bittersweet, but I’m not sad that it’s over, I’m just extremely happy that it happened.

‘Being an international student athlete I always wanted to do my best because this opportunity is not handed to everyone and anyone. It made me realise how lucky I’m to be able to receive a degree in the United States while competing for my college. I made the sacrifices I needed to make and put in the work so that when I look back, I know I did everything in my hands to achieve my goals.’

Szabo was no stranger to the international scene, having attended three world championships (in Rotterdam, Tokyo and Antwerp), two  African champs (Tunisia and Namibia), two World Cups in Doha (bar finalist in 2011), One World Cup in Ghent, Belgium and an invitational in Leverkusen, Germany.

And the life of a leading college sportswomen was certainly a rollercoaster one.

‘I’m proud to say that I competed in every single meet at UIC, which is roughly 52 competitions. With that came memories that were made with my team, and are ones that will never be forgotten. Traveling around America, fun team activities, team dinners, cheers, screaming, crying and anxiousness at meets, hotel fun, volunteering, bus trips, van rides, early mornings, late evenings all well spent with my team.

‘Being a gymnast at UIC has honestly been an incredible journey and I wouldn’t want to change a thing. Not being able to go home often and be with my family was my biggest challenge but I was always distracted by our hectic schedule and of course my team.

‘Reflecting on these four years, I’m extremely happy with what I accomplished and I hope that the younger girls in South Africa also have big goals planned like I did throughout my gymnastics career.’

Asked to appraise her highlights, she says: ‘Illinois champion on Bars with a 9.875, Specialist of the week freshman year
and then received a leadership scholarship in sophomore year.’

But there were more: ‘A career high was on floor at conference with a score of 9.775 competing in front of 15000 people in Utah State. Also, receiving a score over 195 with my team my freshman and senior year. I also featured in the Top 25 Flames 2015-2016.’

As for academic highlights she was named Scholastic All-American team member (with a GPA of 3.5 or higher in two semesters.

After college she received a graduate assistantship at the university of Missouri as the director of operations for the women’s gymnastics team.

Future plans? ‘I’ll continue studying for the next two years while working for Mizzou gymnastics. I’m also planning on receiving a Master of Science. Sports wise, I am not sure what I’m going to do. Away from gymnastics maybe I’ll swim and run for fun just to stay in shape, but I have nothing planned as of now.’

Looking back to her home country and the next wave of talent. To be completely honest, I’m not 100% sure who our next stars will be but I do know that Caitlin Rooskrantz has absolutely beautiful bars and placed second all around as a junior at African Championships and then Naveen Daries placed third.

‘There’s definitely potential in South African gymnastics and I’m excited to see what they have to show in future.’

One thing’s for sure… she’s raise the bar for the next wave of talent.


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