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Winter Olympics Hit Home for East Bay Retiree

Julianna Csongor gazed at her TV screen, transfixed as a group of skiing men pulled up and began firing guns at a small target. In the snowy hills of South Korea they shouldered their rifles and resumed their skiing.

"I wish they would keep saying what the sport is," Csongor said to the screen, "because you kind of lose track."

The sport in question was the Biathlon, a Winter Olympic spectacle that is part cross-country skiing and part gun shooting marksmanship. It didn’t matter what it was about. Csongor was fascinated.

"Oh my goodness," she said in her slight Hungarian accent. "That’s really something."

Joe Rosato Jr.
A display case holds a pair of ice skates signed by skating champions as part of a collection by Julianna Csongor. (Feb. 15, 2018)

Like many retirees, Csongor has plenty of time and enthusiasm to devour every minute of the games from PyeongChang, South Korea. In the Stoneridge Retirement Home in Pleasanton, Csongor gathers daily in front of her television, occasionally with friends stopping by to watch along.

"We check what the judges mark wrong," she said with a hearty laugh.

Growing up an avid ice skater in her native Hungary, Csongor has a whole next level appreciation for the games. She has traveled to U.S and World Championships in pursuit of her favorite sport — skating.

A display case in the retirement complex’ display case is filled with Csongor’s Olympic collection which includes ice skates signed by world champions like Kristi Yamaguchi, photos of Csongor with her heroes Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill, and Csongor’s own pair of skates.

Joe Rosato Jr.
A picture taken of Julianna Csongor meeting skating legend Dorothy Hamill. (Feb. 15, 2018)

"I met Dorothy Hamill at champion event," Csongor said doting on her display of memorabilia, "and that is her signature with her wonderful hairdo which I could never do because I have curly hair."

Csongor never had any aspirations of an Olympic career — the closest she got was a lesson from an Olympic skating coach after winning a contest. He told her she had a "nice edge." She ended up instead becoming a math professor in Philadelphia.

But she did have high hopes for her son Randy who skated competitively and even shared a coach with skater Scott Hamilton.

"He was a terrific skater," she said her voice fading off.

Randy Csongor died two years ago of illness. His mother feels a sense of closeness to him when she watches the games — a passion they shared — so strongly in fact, that Randy arranged for skater Rudy Galindo to call her on her 75th birthday.

"I just broke up," she recalled. "I was so touched."

Csongor feels a surge of excitement watching the various events — occasionally offering her own analysis and commentary to the mix.

On skiing: "I never skied."

The Luge: "You couldn’t pay me enough to get on that sled."

On ice skater Jason Brown: "He’s a terrific skater but he doesn’t have a quad. And without a quad you can’t get on the podium."

As she emerged from a moment of contemplation, Csongor marveled that even in Pleasanton, even in a retirement home — even in her apartment in front of her own television — she could connect with the stories, the feats, the grip of competition thousands of miles away.

"You can watch people be excellent and be a part of it for a few moments," Csongor said. "You can be a part of it and share that feeling."

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