Storm in the swimming pool? No, a clash between the old and the new

The Hungarian media is chock-full of stories about Katinka Hosszú, one of Hungary’s swimming stars and an excellent businesswoman, who advertises herself as the “Iron Lady.” Hosszú became a professional athlete in the last couple of years and amassed a considerable amount of money. But she created a scandal only eight months before the Olympics when she decided to complain openly about the poor conditions which, in her opinion, exist in Hungary for the first-rate swimmers the country has produced in the last few years. As a result of her outburst, Hungary’s swimming world is in turmoil.

Hosszú is no youngster. She is a twenty-six-year-old who began her career in 2003. Her name became internationally known, however, only in 2009 at the World Championship in Rome, a year after she moved to the United States to study and swim at the University of Southern California. Her coach for four years was David Salo, the head swimming coach at USC. Since then she has been a world champion five times in the 400 and 200 meter medley and a European champion in medley, free style, butterfly, and backstroke, just to mention a few of her accomplishments.

You may have noticed that a win at the 2012 Olympics is sorely missing from her awards. In the 2012 London Olympics she didn’t manage to get a medal of any kind. It was at that point that she switched coaches, replacing David Salo with Shane Tusup, whom she married a year later. They settled in Budapest to train for the Olympics. I don’t know what Shane Tusup’s secret is, but from that point on Hosszú has had a phenomenal career.

In an interview Tusup stressed how important the forthcoming Olympics is to both him and his wife. “Post London 2012 we created a four-year plan to head toward Rio 2016, and this year was what I was considering a test year. Katinka and I both sat down to design a brand new program based on what we thought was important and what was not important.”

After three years in Budapest, Tusup and Hosszú decided that they had had enough. Apparently they have been trying to convince the Hungarian Swimming Association (Magyar Úszószövetség / MÚSZ) to adopt more modern techniques and to provide state-of-the-art equipment, to no avail. Hosszú called a press conference where she explained her grievances, after which a huge debate began over whether she is just a spoiled prima donna or whether her complaints are legitimate. Suddenly everybody is a swimming expert.

The older generation, even among Hungarian swimming coaches, think that all those extras, like ice tubs and warming pools, are useless. It is enough just to swim a lot. In addition to these traditionalists, some people resent the American Tusup who dares to tell the locals what to do. Tusup has only one trainee, Hosszú. Obviously, the rest of the first-class swimmers are satisfied with their coach, László Kiss, who by now is 75 years old and perhaps not as open to the many innovations introduced in the sport in the past few years. The question of money also has entered the discussion, but I think that a clash of cultures is at the heart of the feud.

Although Tamás Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, acts as if he has no idea what is bothering Hosszú because, according to him, MÚSZ provided her with everything she demanded, the facts tell a different story. László Kiss, the regular coach, complained months ago about the lack of available pools for practice. In September 2015, of the six Olympic-size pools in Budapest only two were available to the athletes. Kiss announced that the situation was desperate and that it may influence the outcome of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Hosszú, who was accustomed to better circumstances, apparently has been complaining ever since her return to Budapest from California. She wanted a room of her own, a masseur, an ice bath (used to alleviate inflammation as a result of muscle injury), warming-up tubs, underwater cameras, and software analyzing style and effectiveness. Apparently, after a lot of badgering the cameras have been ordered but not yet installed. The swimmer complains that even the starting blocks that are used in Hungary are not the the same as those that will be used in Rio or at other international events. And having the right kind of starting block is essential: complicated mathematical formulas prove the effectiveness of certain types of blocks.

Starting blocks

Starting blocks

Meanwhile Tusup has his own problems. The locals seems to resent his “interference” and, instead of using his obviously successful techniques, they shun him. Especially Károly Güttler (47), who received a silver medal in the 100 and 200 m. breaststroke in Sydney in 2000 and is now an assistant coach. He is very old-fashioned. According to him, “none of this fancy stuff” is necessary to produce good swimmers.

There are others, like József Ruza, former secretary-general of MÚSZ, who think otherwise. He recalls that years ago foreigners were surprised that the Hungarian swimmers showed up at international meets without a staff. He thinks that Tusup’s talents should be utilized and his methods should be incorporated into the training of the country’s talented swimmers.

Some observers who are not necessarily professionals in the sport look at the rift between Gyárfás, president of MÚSZ, and Hosszú as a clash of cultures but from a slightly different angle from mine. A journalist writing in Gépnarancs quotes Gyárfás as saying “I would like my sweet little Katinka back,” on the basis of which he comes to the conclusion that Hungarian culture doesn’t tolerate the kind of criticism Hosszú levelled against MÚSZ, especially if it comes from a woman. And where women aren’t the only ones who don’t have decent treatment; men don’t either. Both should remain quiet and hope for the best.

And indeed, all the other greats refused to side with Katinka Hosszú, with the exception of Éva Székely, gold medalist at the 1952 Olympics who held the world record in the 400 m. individual medley in 1953. Today, at the age of 89, she claims that the athlete is always right. “Katinka’s job is to swim and win while the association’s is to provide all the help to the athlete…. This girl is a world-class swimmer, and in her place I wouldn’t have bothered to argue with the association.”

Katinka Hosszú insists that she will swim as a member of the Hungarian team although some of her compatriots would gladly send her back to the United States. One bright commentator to HVG’s article said: “Katinka is right, but that Tusup or whatever his name is shouldn’t sound off. If we need advice from America we will let him know.”

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András S. Szőllősy
Guest
András S. Szőllősy

I have been an enthusiastic reader of your Hungarian Spectrum for quite a long time. This report is a fine example that living in Budapest, watching the Hungarian media every day, why I can understand only from your blog what is actually going on in my homeland.

Pál Heltai
Guest
My dear András, I am no expert on swimming but I can use everday logic, so I have formed a tentative opinion and will reserve judgement until more facts are known. My tentative opinion is this. It is the general concensus of opinion in Hungary that anyone who does not like Gyárfás is right, so Hosszú must be right. Yet there are some disturbing facts that everyday logic tells us should not be dismissed. One is the fact that Hungarian swimmers were very successful at the world championships last year. How was this possible if conditions are as appalling as described by Katinka? And if Hungarian coaches are as backward and conservative as suggested by the article? And why was Cseh more successful than Gyurta? Did he have a better changing room? Then there is the troubling question of money. My experience is that outstanding sportsmen usually become champions of the truth defending the interests of their fellow sportsmen when they have personal conflicts or want more money. Maybe Hosszú is different, but I would wait and see. Then there is something that no Hungarian would understand. Maybe it is cultural. Hungarians cannot understand why Katinka Hosszú does not want… Read more »
Member

Well, I am not expert too, but has a different view on what you list here.

Because of the “very successful at the world championship, last year” everything must be alright with conditions. What is the measure of this great success? Could it be more successful? Why only this event do you consider?

“And why was Cseh more successful than Gyurta? Did he have a better changing room?” Who claimed a better changing room would give more success?

“troubling question of money”: my bet if it were only money Katinka would swim elsewhere than in Hungary. Her demand of what should be changed is supported other professionals. Changing that will more naturally result in more success AND money. That is the way it works.

Promotion of SWC: One can rely only on what she said: “They value not my achievement, but my promotion of WC” (http://index.hu/sport/uszas/2016/01/06/nem_a_teljesitmenyemet_dijazzak_hanem_hogy_promotaljam_a_vb-t/). Anyone with healthy self-respect would think alike.

Pál Heltai
Guest

As I said, I will wait and see, and reserve judgement until more facts are known.

Member

Who are you expecting to hear “more facts” from? From Andy Vajna’s media, Magyar Hirlap, MTI? Can you please tell us where the facts should come from?!

Also,I find it very arrogant the opinion that until now everything was just terrific so there are no changes needed! Look at how much money is spent on soccer without any results. So you log dictates that anything that is horrible should be thrown money at, and anything that is successful should stay as status quo? What kind of thinking is that?

As far as someone who knows something about the swimming (as you are no expert), why wouldn’t you listen to Katinka and her husband? They seemsto be the experts here!

Guest

Looks to me like the operation of the “not invented here” syndrome in its full glory.

petofi
Guest

@Pal Heltai

re: “Hungarians cannot understand why Katinka Hosszú does not want to take part – for free or for money – in the promotion of the Swimming World Championship in Budapest.”

Of course, ‘Hungarians wouldn’t’…
Perhaps Katinka is a peron of principle and doesn’t wish to promote a project which is obviously bad for the country?
Maybe that money could better be used for schools and hospitals in this perfect country, Mr. Heltai?

But we know: Principle is a forgotten concept in Hungary where one always does things for future gain.

Hungaricum.

Hajra Magyarok!

Member
I find it very interesting that Hungarians throw their full support behind Andy Vajna when it comes to Hungarian movies, a guy who had many-many legal troubles in the country he reached his success, but they are reluctant to listen to Tusup. It is also interesting that Hungarians throw their full support behind billion dollar soccer stadiums but they are upset because a truly successful sportswoman dare to demand more than one swimming poo that can be used for training, and dare to demand equipment that she believes would bring further success to her sport. Never mind the soccer stadiums with heated grass that Orban ordered, their problem is with hot tubs for swimmers. While Orban’s buddies are taking possession of Hungarian lands, while his friends are becoming multi-billionaires from government contracts and building Olympic size sports facilities. Some Hungarians are huffing and puffing because Katinka dares to demand fair payment for the use of her photos and her endorsement for promotions and advertisements that would ensure that maffia of Orban gets even richer. Hungarians do not have a problem with Orban but with Katinka? Really? It is either a joke or simple jealous because this woman had the balls… Read more »
András S. Szőllősy
Guest
András S. Szőllősy

Yes , I am afraid, jealousy is the keyword.

Guest

It is more than just jealousy, if by jealousy we simply mean ” I wish I had what that person has “, or something like that.

I was once offered a teaching job at a university in Budapest and when I met the person who would have been my line manager to discuss the details, we somehow strayed into politics. She, though a Fidesz supporter, was nonetheless critical of Hungarian mentality in general, and offered insight into the particularly Hungarian form of jealousy.

Hungarians are not content with good old fashioned “I wish I had what they have”, but go one further and feel that if someone has more than they do, it is because something has beeen actively taken away from them. Even something which they never had in the first place.

I think this idea is sound, and might account not just for the desperate avarice with which Orbán and co. are pillaging the country, but lies behind the nasty viciousness with which they want to destroy any critics and opponents, as they have openly declared on numerous occasions.

Ron
Guest

You refer to the loose/loose situation. Anywhere else in the world it is either win/loose, loose/win or win’/win.

petofi
Guest

A fine point.

Imre
Guest

My 12 yer old inner child truly enjoyed your freudian slip about the “swimming poo”

Charles Gati
Guest

All I want to add to Professor Balogh’s very accurate account is that Ms. Hosszú is not simply one of Hungary’s outstanding swimmers. True, there are a few men and perhaps another woman or two who could do well in the Rio Olympics. But Hosszú is in a class by herself. Last year, as I recall, she was the best female swimmer in the world. She holds several world records. She could surely count on at least two gold medals in Rio, but if luck is also on her side she could end up with as many six gold medals. This in turn would make her not only the best Hungarian swimmer ever; it would make her the best female swimmer ever. Anywhere. This would also be a huge story everywhere, especially in the United States that has dominated female swimming for many, many years. How sad that the old leadership of the Hungarian Swimming Association cannot fully support this extraordinary athlete.

petofi
Guest

The fact is that the fragile Hungarian ego can’t stand the success of the American trainer and attempts are, slyly, made to sabotage Katinka.

Standard Hungaricum…

Guest

Re: ‘If we need advice from America we will let them know’

Touchy-touchy stuff there. The opinion giver there no doubt doesn’t look at the Olympic tables.

Hungary surely produces some fine athletes. Their medal count is up there. A nod to the country’s past quest for ‘excellence’ on both a personal and nation level. But sorry to say the impertinent arrogance is astounding. I’d think from this and other scenarios the word ‘excellence’ will be run out of the land.

Member

It’s very petty and shameful how Hosszu’s critics are trying to pin the imagined problems of the Olympics on her. So Hungarian … It’s amusing to watch my compatriots when they encounter a talent. It’s like little green aliens to them. “Run for your life! The talents are coming! Let’s destroy them!”.

I told this joke a few years ago on this blog . Very applicable to the reactions of the average Joe.

St. Peter visits hell one day. He is showed around by Lucifer.

They stop at a large cauldron. People are stewing in the hot mess.
Armed guards are beating back the ones who try to escape.
“Who are are these?”
“These are the Russians.”

At next cauldron Pete sees a sign: “Climbing out Verboten!”. No guards.
“Who are these guys?”
“The Germans.”

Suddenly they arrive to a cauldron but there are no signs or guards.
“How come these don’t need signs or guards?”
“Well, these are the Hungarians. They pull each other back.”

Member

Éva, please change István Kiss to László Kiss.

My apologies, I was to quick and tought you were referring the other Kiss, who has step down.

Member
Delgado
Guest

Gyarfas is one of the disgusting people around. He is almost certainly a silovik, that is a ‘former’ member of the communist state security apparatus, with extremely shady dealings in the 1990’s.

It is rumored that Gyarfas ordered the contract killing of Janos Fenyő, one of the Hungarian returnees of the LA-based Hungarian bunch who became a media magnate in the 1990’s. Gyarfas never contested the rumors which were printed several times.

Gyarfas is absolutely, 100% committed to whoever is in power (now Fidesz) and totally arrogant about those who are not in power (meaning not members of t he Fidesz power structure).

Ron
Guest

Because this is an Olympic year a lot of money is paid to sport people to keep their mouths shut. More swimmers were complaining about (lack of money for) preparation. Only if you are a poster person than you receive a lot of money.

The only problem is that Katinka has enough money to act independently, and therefore, they cannot control her, which is for the Viktator a problem.

Member
BerciB
Guest

Storm in the swimming pool

BerciB
Guest

Another shameful corruption drama tolerated by FIDESZ on the expense of a world class athlete who happen to keep her head above the cesspool.

petofi
Guest

Not a clash between ‘old and new’….but a clash between principle and self-interest. Why should the improvement of facilities be the subject of strong-arm tactics by government personnel who’ve been charged to line up the ‘sport lemmings’ in support?

spectator
Guest

Anybody still have nightmares about ”BolDog”, that mishap mascot introduced by Gyárfás? The miserable thing was accepted by him, because it was a gift, as is “free of charge”!
In my opinion it gives a pretty good summary of his character.

Then when the singer/songwriter Demjén complained that he hasn’t got a nickel for his song used for promotion of the championship, Gyárfás reacted, like “oh, but I thought that it was his free contribution to a national event..!”

When it turned out, that the infamous contract – worth 12 millions of HUF, – what Katinka Hosszú publicly tore apart contained even caveats like she should participate in the reklam and promotion regarding the Olympics as well, Gárfás reacted likewise: “Oh, but it would be expected of anyone to do that willingly for her country” – or something at the same effect.

So far I haven’t heard of that Gárfás ever done a single thing without getting paid for, but it could very well be for my faulty hearing.

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