Szilveszter Csollány, so this saddest day has finally come, the last say – goodbye… Hundreds were at your grave yesterday (February 9), friends, athletes, Olympians, champions, gymnasts, coaches, judges, and of course a family with a torn heart.
It took me days to even comprehend the relentless news: you were finally forced to give up this last fight, my friend, and you left us here, at age 51.
I remember Sydney became your city, you got to the top there. I was amazed that one of us, and it was not me – since we were peers – at the age of thirty, was capable of performing at a world-class level in gymnastics, and not only did you make the most of it, you had the patience to fast until your time came.
And just before the Sydney Olympic Games when you said, “Hey Zuzu, how many more minutes do I need to hold the ‘Christ’ – the cross on rings – for you to believe I’m in good shape?”, you looked at me laughing, then nodded to your coach, Aunt Pista – as you called the head coach István Vereckei – who had just said: “Now, Szilveszter, just go back to your last turn, one more time, and nail that dismount finally! Would, ya?” “Oh, nooo,” you said, pouting, but you went back and nailed it three times in a row because that was you, the perfectionist.
Yes, you were like that. You always had hepps, it was not easy with you, they said, but your passion for gymnastics always overcame the difficulties.
How many times did we get annoyed together after your finals? I would be excited for you in the commentary stand, but we couldn’t wait to turn off the red live light at the end of the interview to finally swear, saying: In this competition, the Italian phenomenon, Yuri Chechi won again, and again and you “just” came second again and again at the World Championship or European Championship or the Olympic Games.
Can you believe that we were really upset about the fact that you were the second-best in something on the whole planet? Or the second-best in Europe? How many people can say anything like that in a lifetime at all?
But, you were patient, my friend, patient enough to first retire and then restart a fabulous career till you could finally reach the top in every existing race. If there was no other way, you were dragged back from another continent or another city by your beloved master, your coach, Professor Vereckei, who had the key to you and could open your soul at the crucial moments.
I remember our childish jumping, laughing, and clapping right after your triumph in the ring final in Sydney. We had comforted ourselves after your numerous silver medals saying silver is beautiful almost like white gold, but this time, after you won the Olympic gold, well it was obvious this medal really had a different colour.
I will never forget the way we seriously sound tested the Phoenix Arenas’ wall in Debrecen, Hungary two years later. Those walls had to endure it when you finally won the elusive glorious World Championship title, after five silver medals.
I dare say that our sport, especially in Hungary, did not appreciate your value. You coached in America, Iceland, Switzerland, and even recently travelled to Austria. Kids admired you everywhere in the world – or rather elsewhere – where they were able to recognize the champion in you.
I was so happy to suggest you, your delightful personality as a special guest to our AIPS friend, the renowned television host and the President of the European Sports Journalists’ Association, Mr. Charles Camenzuli, and he hosted you at the grand Olympic TV show that closed the year in 2019 in Malta. I get the feeling that others abroad knew how to look at you as a real champion, and they did not tend to criticize your stumbles and your attempts outside of sports.
Lately, you had changed a lot, you started running, you crushed the marathon and we even joked that maybe because of the postponement of the Games you could get in shape again for Tokyo.
You were fulfilled in fatherhood. You were the loving husband of your dear Jutka and the proud daddy of your three beautiful girls. You had exchanged recipes as a great cook and loved to stay at home, waiting for your family to finally arrive in a cozy, neat, tidy home that you happily kept like that for them.
I had already seen before my spiritual eyes how we were going to slap each other’s knees when you get out of the hospital, figuring out how this scary story might have happened just to you!
I refused to take note of the increasingly worrying news because it seemed to me that you were born to be a survivor, and that’s what I always thought of you.
I never started this obituary, not even in my thoughts, because I simply didn’t believe I would ever have to write down these painful and tragic words about one of my contemporaries, my fellow gymnast, my teammate.
My dear Szilas, as everyone called you by your nickname! This last task did not seem to be too complicated, this very last exercise you should have accomplished just perfectly: to get out of your hospital bed.
You were stubborn in a good way, but I could only hope that this stubbornness would help you get through the most dramatic point of your life, from which perhaps only the champions have a way back.
We are tormentingly learning about this new reality. And as I think of your elegance on the Rings, holding the Cross perfectly, or the Csollány element named after you in the Gymnastics Code of Points I know for sure that you have not only left this legacy behind. You were a successful era in our beloved sport.
Rest in peace, my friend, Szilveszter Csollány!
Dr. Zsuzsa Csisztu – former teammate of Szilveszter Csollány in the Hungarian National Team
I am a young and vibrant sports journalist from Ghana, a member of the Sports Writers’ Association of Ghana(SWAG), and working with Sports Preview Ghana and sports reporting outfit poised to bring all the latest and trending sports news around the globe.