Meeting Ekaterina Szabo at the Trumbull Congregational Church. Photos by Debbie Wood Soos
An Olympic Star Visits Trumbull, CT
Erika Papp Faber
On December 27th, some friends of Zita Balogh gathered at the Trumbull Congregational Church to meet her sister Ekaterina Szabo and ask her about her stellar career.
She was born in Zágon (see our “Snapshots” piece elsewhere in this issue) in 1968, and was sent to boarding school in Onesti at the very early age of 5, where a gym teacher noticed her talent. She started gymnastic training in the first grade – for 7 or 8 hours daily! – with the Károlyis among her coaches. At the age of 11, she was sent to a gymnastics training school at Déva.
Kati took part in every available gymnastic competition, and earned every possible medal. At the 1983 European Championship Games in Goteborg, she won a gold in Uneven Bars and Floor Exercise and a silver in Vault. In the World Championships of the same year held in Budapest, she won gold in Floor Exercise and silver in Team, Vault and Uneven Bars.
But her peak came in 1984, at the Los Angeles summer Olympic Games, when Romania was the only Socialist state to participate. There, she earned a gold medal in Vault, Balance Beam and Floor Exercise, and contributed to the Team Gold medal. She also won a silver medal for All-Around best gymnast. She was the most successful athlete in the ’84 Olympics.
She was fortunate in that she had no injuries. She wanted to leave while she was at her peak, and to do something else; so after 16 years, she stopped competing in 1987.
She completed her studies at the Sports Academy in Bucharest, and then went to live in France. There she taught gymnastics at a school for a number of years, but then decided to devote her time to her children and taking care of herself. Because her back was affected, she underwent surgery five years ago, although the doctors had warned that it might not be successful. Unfortunately, the prognosis was correct: today, she still has to contend with back pain. So for the last two years, she has attended physical therapy daily. Nowadays, she volunteers in helping children and seniors.
Kati’s biography, “Az ötödik szer – Szabó Kati életei” (The fifth apparatus – the lives of Kati Szabó), written by Csinta Samu is being published now. Her first book signing will be in Sepsiszentgyörgy on January 22nd, followed by one in Budapest on the 24th. The book will be published also in Romanian, with a book signing in Bucharest on the 26th. A French and an English version are also planned.
Participating at our Trumbull meeting was Szakács Imre, Counselor of National Cohesion from the Hungarian Consulate in New York. He mentioned that Hungarians had followed her Olympic accomplishments with great interest, and presented her with a book about Budapest as a token of the current government’s appreciation.
She has been invited to the “M4 – Az Év Sportolója Gála”, organized by the Association of Hungarian Sportswriters which honors the outstanding athletes and coaches of the year, to be held in Budapest on January 11th, 2018.
In her birthplace of Zágon, a kindergarten has been named for her, as has a sport center in Sepsiszentgyörgy. Recently, a French gymnastic club asked permission to use her name. And the girls in a gymnastics club in Fairfield, CT, attended by the granddaughter of our Editorial Board member Paul Soos were thrilled to have Ekaterina visit them and autograph their shirts.
(We are proud to have Szabó Kati dedicate a photograph to MNO - see photo with the lead. )