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