Gabriela Szabo, her life after the athletic glory

Gabriela Szabo, now 40 years old, multiple times Olympic and World champion, made a slow shift from all the training camps, stadiums, awarding ceremonies and the spotlights she lived with most of her life. She suddenly gave up the athletic sports, but she rediscovered it near the runway.

hen she stopped, she did it suddenly. The doubts had crawled already into her mind a few months before that, sharp doubts like having effort cramps, but she tried not to pay attention to them. She isolated the feeling, going on with her life the same way she did before that, having the same strict schedule, calculated up to the second. She would wake up very early in the morning; she would eat breakfast to get her strength. And then she would run tens of kilometers, sometimes all alone, at times with a sparring partner. Very often it was a man, who would have to seriously use his legs to keep up with her. In the afternoon she would rest, after having the lunch that would help her recover and afterwards, she would start over, running more kilometers; the numbers were always spinning on her personal stopwatch. 

She used to say: “I wake up at 7 a.m. I have breakfast. At 9:30 I go out to run. I run 16, 18, even 20 kilometers; and in the afternoon another 10 – 12. After that, sometimes I do fitness or some specific training”. She would go to bed early with her body twitching due to the effort, so she would be able to start over the next day. Hundreds, thousand of beginnings; hundreds, thousand of days that are almost identical. 

But then, during those difficult months of 2003, something had changed. It was in August; the Paris World Championship was about to begin, but Gabi was no longer feeling like herself. While preparing in the Izvorani training camp she felt tired, fragile and her face was harsh from the burning sun and all the hard work. “I am nervous. I left home on the 23rd of March. Now, I am 40 kilometers away from my hone, but I didn`t have the chance to stop by. I am wearing the same clothes all the time and I will be wearing the same clothes while being in France“, Gabi confessed in an interview. “I am overstrained. I pushed myself so hard for the trainings lately…I had days when I just didn`t want to run anymore.” 

And she knew something else for that matter: the competition of her favorite category, 5,000 mm, seriously increased once many young and strong African women from Ethiopia and Kenya came into the picture. Gabriela Szabo`s trademark was the furious sprint in the last tour, the show at the end, the adrenaline boost of a long and usually strategic run. “It was hard for me to change something. And these girls are fresher than I am. Once, I would need 61 – 62 seconds in the last tour and I would win with 20 -30 m advance. There is a certain wear and tear, a fatigue that I got. The years passed by. My muscles don`t have the same elasticity they used to have before“, says Gabi in a reasoned and implacable analysis. 

And, her mind and body were not misleading. At the World Championship on the Stade of France, she finished the 5,000 m track race on the 11th place and three years before that she had been the Olympic champion. The world of athletics didn`t understand the fall. And the daily newspaper L’Equipe published some lines expressing general amaze. She came back home and had a general medical check; the diagnosis was “physical overstrain”. The recommendation was 6 months of pause. 

The first and the last abandon of her career 

But she was not able to stay on the sideline for too long. After two months and a half she went in the USA, in Albuquerque (New Mexico), for a training camp. She followed the same draconic schedule, but the exhaustion was still in her body. For Gabriela Szabo, triple times indoor world champion, the 2004 season would end after only half of a race. The first and only abandon of her professional life happened in Birmingham, during the 3,000 m race. 

This was the moment when she decided to stop. She decided to end her career while she still had a winner`s aura. “I felt I would never be able to be Gabi Szabo, the winner of the first place. I always told myself that whenever I would feel that I am not able to perform anymore, I will step back. After all these years when I always was on the first, second or third pace, all of the sudden to be the last to finish the race, on the 11th place?!”

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