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Tokyo Olympics: What Happened to Swimming Legend Katinka Hosszú?

Hungary Today 2021.07.30.

Three-time Olympic champion, Katinka Hosszú, one of Hungary’s most renowned athletes, did not perform according to expectations at the Tokyo Olympic Games, only finishing fifth in the 400m medley final, and seventh in the 200m medley. Furthermore, although having won a silver medal in Rio, she now finished only 20th in the 200m backstroke. Even though the “Iron Lady” will return home without any medals from this year’s competition, the three-time Olympic, nine-time world, and 15-time European champion says that she can’t quit like this.

After finishing fifth in the 400m medley, Katinka Hosszú could only secure seventh place in the 200m medley at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She also competed in the 200 women’s backstroke but could not reach the finals. The three-time Olympic champion’s performance at the Tokyo Olympics has fallen far short of what fans, the swimming federation, and Katinka herself had hoped for.

“I’m sorry I swam like this at an Olympics,” the three-time Olympic champion commented on her performance with sadness in her voice at the Tokyo Olympic Games to reporters.

No wonder everyone expected a lot from Katinka Hosszú. She is the current world record holder in 100m individual medley, 200m individual medley, 400m individual medley (long course) and 200m backstroke (short course). She was also the first swimmer to hold world records in all five individual medley events at the same time.

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The now 32-year-old swimming legend made her Olympic Games debut at the very young age of 15, when she finished 31st in the 200m freestyle in Athens in 2004. She won her first medal the very same year at the European Short Course Swimming Championships, a bronze in the 400-meter individual medley, and then went on to achieve even better results in the most prestigious world competitions in the coming years. In the European Championships in 2008 she won one of her first international medals, a silver in the 400m medley. In the same year at the Beijing Olympic Games, she finished 12th in the 400m individual medley and 17th in the 200m. In 2012 Katinka qualified for her third Olympic Games, this time finishing fourth in the 400m medley, eighth in the 200m, and ninth in the 200m butterfly. Katinka was at her peak in 2015 and 2016. At the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, she won the 200m medley with a world record, at the 2016 Rio Olympics she set a world record in the 400m medley, won the 100m backstroke, and won the silver medal in the 200m backstroke.

Hungarian fans expected her performance at the Tokyo Olympics to result in several gold medals. However, this year’s summer Games turned out differently for her and people are trying to guess what exactly happened to one of the most notable Hungarian athletes. Many believe the pandemic played the biggest role in Katinka being a shadow of her old self.

Years ago, she developed and has been applying a training plan, based on the idea of treating smaller competitions as training opportunities, in order to swim continuously and prepare for the most important races. However, the pandemic brought the world of sports to a standstill for months, with several competitions and then even the Tokyo Olympics being postponed, depriving the athlete of one of the most important opportunities to prepare. In a recent interview, Katinka herself cited the postponement of the 2020 event as the main reason for failing to meet expectations, in which she said that “if this Olympics had been held last year, I wouldn’t have swum like this, that’s for sure.”

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However, this might not be the only reason why many felt that her performance in the pool was far worse than what was expected of her.

When assessing Katinka’s performance, it should also be taken into account that, at the age of 32, she was one of the oldest swimmers taking part in the 2020 Olympic Games. So much so, that if she had been able to take victory in the 200 medleys, she would have been the oldest athlete ever to have won that category.

Another key factor is perhaps the fact that Katinka did not have a proper coach for a long time when training for this year’s Olympics.

The swimmer’s greatest successes came under the guidance of American swimming coach, Shane Tusup, whom she met during her university years in the U.S. and started working with him after the 2012 London Olympics. As well as working together professionally, they also became close on a personal level, blending their lives together in 2013. Katinka’s swimming career also took on momentum as she managed to pocket three gold medals and one silver while also breaking several world records at the Rio Summer Games.

However, by 2018, it became clear that the relationship between the couple had gone sour, which led to their professional and personal break-up in May that same year.

Katinka then went under the tutelage of Árpád Petrov for the 2019 World Championships in Guangzhou. The swimmer continued her winning streak with her new coach, winning both the 200 and 400 medleys at the World Championships.

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Although her swim times were slightly slower than at the previous World Championships, it still came as a surprise when she gave her coach the boot only after one and a half years of working together.

At the time, Katinka explained her decision by saying that her trust wavered in Petrov at the summer World Championships. “During our time together, it became clear to me that Árpi was unable to live up to the task,” she said bluntly. She also announced her preparations for the 2020 Olympics on her own.

Then, at the Short Track European Championships in December 2019, her new partner, Máté Gelencsér, appeared on the list of her coaches. In January 2020, it was revealed that József Nagy would take over her coaching.

Katinka Hosszú has come under a lot of attack on social media for her recent Olympic performance, but she has also received a lot of messages of support and good wishes from people.

After the final, the 32-year-old swim legend thanked everyone on social media for their words of encouragement and support.

“I would simply like to say thanks to everyone for their support, this [performance] is now part of my career, which I take with the same dignity as my more sparkling successes. Thank you all! Thank you, Hungary and everyone else who is and has been there for me!”

Although this was not a successful competition for Katinka, it is undeniable that she has already achieved almost everything an athlete can. As for what the future holds for her, the three-time Olympic, nine-time world, and 15-time European champion concluded by saying:

“I definitely can’t quit like this.”

Featured photo by Tamás Kovács/MTI 

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