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South African Gymnast Going for More than Gold in Tokyo Olympics

Marcus Harton South African Caitlin Rooskrantz made history last year by becoming the first gymnast in her country to win a gold medal at an international meet, earning her a spot on the nation's Olympic team. South Africa has a poor record at the Olympics

South African gymnast Caitlin Rooskrantz is going for the gold — and more. She wants to put gymnastics on the South African athletic map.

Elite gymnastics is uncommon in this part of the world, and is dwarfed in popularity by sports like soccer, rugby and cricket.

"In South Africa, it's not a well-known sport," Rooskrantz said. "It's not a sport that our communities really know about. ... You know, like my mom even said, she didn't even know what it was, you know, when we started in it."

Rooskrantz is the first South African woman to represent the country at the Olympics in artistic gymnastics since 2004.

She says it hasn't been smooth sailing. She trains up to eight hours a day at the Johannesburg Gymnastics Center, a hangar-like gym tucked into an otherwise quiet neighborhood.

FILE - Construction workers and passersby are seen through Olympic rings in front of the construction site of the New National Stadium, the main stadium of Tokyo 2020 Olympics and Paralympics, in Tokyo, Japan, June 13, 2019.

She believes struggle is part of the path to success — especially in a sport as physically difficult as gymnastics.

"You know, I’ve been through so many injuries, I can't even tell you," she said. "From small little pains and niggles to operations. I went for a knee operation ... so I think I’ve had it all, you know. So not only physical struggle, but also mental, because with big injuries, it really does take a big toll on your mental (health), especially in a sport like gymnastics.”

Veda Rooskrantz gave up her larger house and her full-time job as a nurse to support her daughter's dream and to drive her to her workouts twice a day. It's worth it, she said, adding that her daughter was born for this.

And her coach, Ilse Pelser, who is herself a former national champion, says working with Rooskrantz has been a highlight of her 20-year career.

"What makes Caitlin so special is that she is a bundle of talent, strength," Pelser said. "And I think the greatest thing about her is that she is so tenacious and hardworking. You know, she’s — you often get a gymnast who is really talented and who's not really prepared to put in the hours or who definitely, they don't maximize their training hours. But Caitlin has got the potential as well as the work ethic. And that just is a winning combination."

If Rooskrantz has her way, South Africans of every stripe will learn about this elegant sport as they watch her on the Olympic stage.

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