Ekaterina Szabo (ROM)

For a thorough listing of Szabo's results, please visit Gymn Forum's Szabo biography.

Photo by Tom Theobald.
Check out Tom's photography site!

Following Nadia Comaneci's successful reign, it was Ekaterina Szabo who was pegged with the honour (and pressure) of being the "next Nadia." Although born in Romania, Szabo's family is actually of Hungarian descent. There are about 2.5 million ethnic Hungarians living in Romania, with Szabo (translates to "Taylor" in English) being one of the common Hungarian surnames. The young Szabó Katalin (or Ekaterina Szabo in Romanian) knew not a word of Romanian prior to starting gymnastics.

Szabo quickly made an impact on the international scene. Competing against the likes of Agache and Illienko (in 1980) and Mostepanova and Shushunova (in 1982), Szabo became the first gymnast to win two Junior European AA gold titles. This feat was not repeated until Alexandra Marinescu's wins at the 1994 and 1996 Jr. Euros.

Early in her career, in 1981, Szabo was unwillingly involved in a scandal with embarrassing consequences. As the story goes, Bela Karolyi brought a gymnast from Romania to compete in the International Gymnastics Classic in Los Angeles. The gymnast was entered under the name Ekaterina Szabo, a fact which many questioned, alleging that in fact fellow Romanian teammate Lavinia Agache was impersonating Ekaterina Szabo.

Later that year, when the Romanian Tour (Nadia '81) came to the USA, the announcer introduced Ekaterina Szabo. Bart Conner expected to see the girl he'd met earlier in Los Angeles, but it was not! Next, the name Lavinia Agache was announced. Bart recognized Agache as the girl he'd met in Los Angeles and been introduced to as Szabo.

Interestingly, the Romanian gymnastics federation responded to an inquiry made by IG magazine, involving yet a third gymnast. The Romanians wrote that Cristina Grigoras was initially supposed to compete in the meet, but became "unavailable at that moment." As a result, the federation decided to replace her by Lavinia Agache. No mention was made of Ekaterina Szabo. Luckily, the embarrassing Agache/Szabo scandal did not taint either Szabo's or Agache's careers. Szabo went on to achieve great results at the Olympics and elsewhere.

Szabo and Pauca share gold
on beam at the 84 Olympics.
Photo by Tom Theobald. Check out Tom's photography site!

In 1984, the Soviets boycotted the Olympic Games, ordering all of their satellite states to do the same. Romania openly defied, sending their athletes to Los Angeles. In the absence of the Soviet competitors, Szabo entered the competition as the favourite. Even with the Soviets, Szabo would have entered the competitor as a strong contender - while preparing for the Olympics, Szabo scored a perfect 40.0 for her compulsory exercises at a ROM vs. TCH dual meet held in Czechoslovakia.

Although she collected four gold medals in Los Angeles (team, vault, balance beam, and floor exercise), she likely would have exchanged them all for the elusive AA title won (some say unjustly) by Mary Lou Retton (USA). Eerily, four years later, at the 1988 Olympic games, fellow Romanian Daniela Silivas also lost the AA gold, but bounced back to also win gold on three event finals (uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise).

Used with the expressed permission of Gymbox

Despite personal disappointment, Szabo returned home to Romania a heroine. Later that year, she was elected the most successful athlete of the year in Romania. Szabo pressed on with gymnastics, despite some further disappointments (e.g., 5th place AA at the 1985 World Championships). In 1987, Szabo's hard work paid off. A member of the glorious Romanian women's team at the 1987 World Championships, Szabo and her teammates enjoyed a crushing defeat against the Soviets, winning the gold medal in the team event.

Despite being guaranteed a spot on the 1988 Romanian women's gymnastics team, Szabo retired following the 1987 World Championships. She proceeded to enroll in a degree program at the University of Physical and Sports Education in Bucharest. Following her studies, she worked as a coach at Deva, training a host of future stars (e.g., Nadia Hatagan, Andreea Cacovean, and 1999 World Champion Maria Olaru).

Photo © Caroline Paulian, 2000

In June of 1991, Szabo married Christian Tomas, a former member of Romania's Kayak team. The two later had one child, a son they named Lorenzo. In 1992, the family left Romania and settled in Chamalieres, France where she now works as a coach. "I received [job] offers from al over the world. I eventually settled for France , because it’s not too far from home and I can come back and visit more often," she told ProSport.

Szabo prefers to train low level gymnasts, but has influenced some of France's top gymnasts (e.g., 1994 World Team Championship member F. Marotte). Szabo enjoys her life in France, but has not forgotten her Romanian friends. She regularly keeps in touch with former coach A. Goreac and former teammate Daniela Silivas.

In 2000, Szabo was recently inducted into the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame. In 2001, a kindergarten in her native Romania was named after her. “It’s good to know your name hasn’t been forgotten, even after all these years. It means all you’ve done is still appreciated,” Kati reflected to ProSport.

Szabo was born on January 22, 1968 (though during her career her DOB was listed as 1967 to make her age eligible sooner).

. This page was created on June 30, and last updated on January 24, 2002.

   

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