The Hungarian swimming team at the Olympic Games

I must say that I have a great deal less enthusiasm for the Olympic Games today than a few decades ago when for two solid weeks I watched the games practically all day long. The scandals surrounding competitive sports, from sexual molestation to brutal training methods (here I’m thinking of Tamás Széchy, the famed coach who put Hungarian swimming on the map) to performance enhancing drugs, have tainted the games for me.

The recent discovery of the rape case against the young László Kiss (now 75), who until a few months ago was the premier coach of the Hungarian national team, shook the swimming establishment, which was already having a rough time as a result of the clash between Katinka Hosszú, the “iron lady,” and the Magyar Úszószövetség (Hungarian Swimming Association). I wrote about the clash at some length in a post published in January 2016. Hosszú and her American-born coach and husband Shane Tusup, after training in Hungary for three years, decided that they had had enough of the inadequate facilities and outmoded training methods available in Hungary. They had tried to convince the swimming authorities to make changes, to no avail. In that post I described Hosszú’s “revolt” as “a clash between the old and the new” and not a spoiled prima donna’s outburst and outrageous demands. It seems that I may have been right because all the big-name stars of Hungarian swimming, with the exception of Hosszú, bombed in Rio. I’m talking about people like László Cseh, Dániel Gyurta, Dávid and Evelyn Verrasztó, and Éva Risztov.

Here is a recap of the performance of those Hungarian swimmers whom Origo described as the big guns. Perhaps the greatest disappointment was László Cseh (31), whose great ambition was to beat Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly. He was second to Phelps in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Last year at the 2015 Aquatic Championships, Cseh won a gold medal in the 200m butterfly ahead of Chad le Clos, the nemesis of Phelps at this year’s Olympics. After swimming well in the semifinals, he ended up seventh when it counted. On the other hand, a promising Hungarian swimmer, the 19-year-old Tamás Kenderesi, who didn’t train with the big guns, received the bronze medal in the event.

Mark Phelps and László Cseh after it is all over

Mark Phelps and László Cseh after it’s all over

Or there is Dániel Gyurta (27), who as a 15-year-old won a silver medal in the men’s 200m breaststroke at the 2004 Summer Olympics. In 2012 in London he won the gold medal and set a new world record in the event. In Rio he ended up sixteenth in the 100m and seventeenth in the 200m.

The story of the Verrasztó siblings is not pretty either. Dávid Verrasztó (28), after ending up twelfth in the heats for the 400m individual medley, packed up and left for home. He was a no-show for the 200m individual medley. The same Verrasztó received the gold medal in the 400m medley in the 2016 European Championships in London. His sister Evelyn (27) ended up twenty-eighth in the 200m freestyle. In the 2016 European Championships she received gold in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Although she was supposed to swim the first leg of the 4x200m freestyle relay in Rio, a team event that will include Hosszú, she also packed up and left.

And finally there is Éva Risztov (31), several times European champion and gold medal winner at the 2012 London Olympics. She ended up #14 in the 800m freestyle.

I should mention a lesser light, Boglárka Kapás (23), who swims tonight in the 800m freestyle. In the heats she was second, seven seconds behind Katie Ledecky.

Then there is the disqualification of five Hungarian swimmers from the games. Here’s what happened. A new FINA bylaw states the “all swimmers brought to the Games for relays must actually compete” for a medal. Tamás Gyárfás, president of the Hungarian Swimming Association, claims that the rule was badly worded, and therefore he is appealing the judgment. Others, however, for example one of the vice-presidents, state that they understood the rule and were planning to use the five swimmers in the semi-finals, but on the spot plans changed. Whatever the case, this is not a pretty story.

According to some people in the know, there is a simple explanation for why this “misunderstanding” happened. This year’s Hungarian swim team was the biggest of all time. Thirty-six swimmers traveled to Rio. The members of the relay teams, five men in all, were added because in this way more coaches could be included in the group. Of course, it is possible that this interpretation of what happened has no basis in fact whatsoever, but there is always the suspicion that the Hungarians tried to fool FINA.

As people speculate about the secret of Katinka Hosszú’s success (the speculations naturally include performance enhancing drugs and her allegedly abusive husband-coach), many “experts” are coming to the conclusion that Hosszú was most likely right: there is something wrong with the training as well as the state of Hungarian swimming facilities, which apparently are falling apart. In the cases of Cseh, Gyurta and the Verrasztó siblings, perhaps psychological preparedness is what was missing. András Hargitay, the chief coach, also suspects that his swimmers’ complete collapse at such weighty meets as the Olympic Games is due to psychological factors. It is of little consolation that, as Hargitay told Origo, “at home during training [both Gyurta and Cseh] can produce times with which they could easily get gold medals at the Olympics.” Training times don’t count.

What is missing perhaps, in addition to modern training methods and state-of-the-art facilities, is participation in frequent international meets. Hosszú, in contrast to her fellow Hungarian swimmers, entered every possible meet all over the world prior to the Olympics and thereby acquired a more relaxed attitude toward competition. The chief coach of the Hungarian swim team, however, still doesn’t see Hosszú’s strategy as a partial remedy for the uptight Hungarian swimmers. He believes that Hosszú’s success is due to the fact that her coach is her husband, which is a very special relationship that cannot be replicated by others.

I have the feeling that once this Olympic Games is over there will be plenty of soul searching in the Hungarian Swimming Association and a lot of blame leveled against the present leadership.

August 11, 2016
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Guest

After reading Hosszu’s strategy of constantly swimming in international meets and competitively stretching her swimming muscles I saw that another swimmer went ‘out of state’ specifically Missouri State to train and compete. Budapesti Artur Osvath appears to be doing very very well in swimming events by breaking records and just missed being named an ‘All-American’ in NCAA competition. Not the first and and won’t be the last of those who wish to go to college here and engage in sports competition as the frosting on the US cake.

Istvan
Guest

I watched Julianna Miskolczi from Hungary shoot in the Women’s 50m rifle 3 positions even though she was 22nd out of 33 she was a very good shot. Péter Sidi for Hungary finished 5th in in the Men’s 10 meter air rifle which was excellent. The Hungarian Men’s team épée in fencing has been good. Aida Mohamed a women’s Hungarian fencer is doing good so far. I also saw Balázs Bacskai in the 69 kg boxing class really get his ass wiped by a Frenchman. Miklós Cirjenics in judo got totally crushed by a German. Hungary did not even field a team in the equestrian events which was depressing given our great heritage in that area. None the less I believe Hungary is participating in 21 of the 28 sports at the games which is impressive for such a small nation. There is more to the Olympics than swimming Eva.

There are by the way 12 active duty members of the US Army on the US national team. I am very proud of all of them.

bimbi
Guest

“There are by the way 12 active duty members of the US Army on the US national team. I am very proud of all of them.”
Who gives crap Istvan? And especially in the topic under discussion? Proud an irrelevant, as usual.

petofi
Guest

Istvan has a Tin Drum

petofi
Guest

Istvan likes to hear the sound of one tongue flapping…

riki
Guest

So now instead of stadiums, towns will get olympic sized swimming pools. Good idea.

Guest

I think you are absolutaly right Éva- the missing factor in the Hungarian team is not just the faulty training system, but also psychological preparedness.

And the fact that the best swimmers did not train with the state approved coaches with their outmoded, draconian and intransigent attitudes seems to confirm this.

Orbán has deliberately created a society incapable of participating in mainstream culture, and the recent showing at the olympics is an example of just that.

We have an outlaw government, which has deliberately encouraged an isolationist mentality in all spheres of life, including sports. No wonder the poor swimmers found it hard to feel up to the task, with such an “outcast” cutural baggage weighing them down.

Guest

Re: ‘outcast cultural baggage’

‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense’

Robert Frost

The higher the bricks rise in Magyar wall-building the more the country will lose her cultural understanding not only of the kulfoldis but the world itself. And as far as giving ‘offense’ many of her own have decided to leave rather than take the abject disrespect accorded to them by their public servants.

Guest

Very beautifully put, wrfree.

Montaigne surprised his friends and neighbours when, unlike them, he did not build walls or even a fence around his rather impressive chateau.
He wrote a small piece about it, where he explained that, basically, when you build fences, people wonder what’s behind it and thieves might see this as throwing down the gauntlet. So he remained un-fenced, unburgled and at peace.

In Hungary, “the fence” is nothing but a smokescreen for Orbán in order to continue his theft of public moneys which have been allocated by the EU for purposes other than lining the private pockets of individuals within the Fidesz government.

People are not born evil, but as the saying goes “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

In Orbán’s case, he has worked the system in order to obtain absolute power and he has been absolutely corrupted.

petofi
Guest

“…the missing factor…”

Back in the days of the the great hockey challenge of the best of the Soviet Union against the best of Canada in 1972, I clearly remember
that, when I saw the first game, I thought Canada had no chance. The Russians were better skaters and had a system of play that ran circles against the confused Canadians. Yet, they lost. As the games went on, the Canadian players picked up the pace and the Russians wilted somewhat. The difference? I thought then that the Canadians played with more ‘heart’…which was nothing more than pride…in country.
Could that ‘pride in country’be the missing factor for the Hungarian swimmers?

Guest

You could be right petofi..To accomplish a goal requires confidence, belief, desire and even taking advantage of chance all extended into execution. But the country has been making manifest some arguably undesirable traits in its actions due to its leaders. How can that not have an affect in some way on top athletes who are pretty much attuned psychologically when it comes to competition?

PALIKA
Guest
My sympathies Eva, my much diminished interest in the Games is that my overwhelming impression is that it has become a cut throat competition between pharmaceutical companies to produce the most effective performance enhancing drugs with the least chance of being detected. The initial intrusion of drugs into sport was probably the initiative of the communist regimes in Europe, for obvious political purposes. As so many of the Marxist initiatives in the World they have succeeded in their aims. They damaged the physical and spiritual health of young people. Now that their regimes have all but disappeared they have left the legacy, cheerfully embraced by the increasingly amoral and profit oriented world of our new rulers. Whilst they are able to clock up larger and larger profits we are left in a world where sport is increasingly a contest not of the champions but of their paymasters for their glory and wealth. The failure to exclude Russia from this contest but reducing their players has been a master stroke. What better way to humiliate them than by showing how they can perform without institutionalised cheating. The Hosszu story is intriguing. I wait with interest on how her enemies will plot… Read more »
Member

A little bit OT:
Have you noticed the scandal around the sports reporter Jenő Knézy Jr.? He made it even into international news headlines after “forgetting” to mention the name of Yusra Mardini, the refugee swimmer who won her heat. Of course, Knézy explains this with technical problems: the monitors didn’t work properly, he didn’t get up-to-date information, etc. etc.
And then, a further incident as noticed by 444.hu (http://444.hu/2016/08/10/ifj-knezy-jeno-elfelejtette-megemliteni-az-orszagos-csucsot-uszo-holoda-peter-nevet ): the same reporter “forgot” to mention the fourth member of the Hungarian men’s 4x100m swimming team (which, BTW, hit the national record). As the readers of 444.hu pointed out, the swimmer, Péter Holoda, “happens” to be the son of Attila Holoda, a mining and energy expert who left his office as an undersecretary of state for energy affairs, sharply criticizing the Orbán government’s unprofessional energy policies (http://index.hu/gazdasag/2013/09/30/holoda_ez_koztorvenyes_buncselekmeny/ ).

Guest

On that Knezy story…. Jeno sure just lost his chance to ever join ESPN one day if they ever wanted someone to distinctively cover the Eastern European sports scene…;-)…

FreeWheeling
Guest

Oh Jenci, are you incompetent or a liar who doesn’t mind looking like one who is incompetent at his profession?

bimbi
Guest
The above summary lays out the sad state of competitive swimming in Hungary today. Hosszu Katinka, already responsible for three gold medals (for which the country should be very grateful indeed) in a very real sense does not belong to the Hungarian national team, training as she does in the USA with the advice of her husband/coach. It was interesting to see that almost all of the ‘big name’ swimmers who did not perform up to expectations were – for swimmers – rather old, Mr. Phelps notwithstanding. It must be especially disappointing because swimming is a sport/exercise in which Hungarians participate, regularly and actively, young and old as one can see in the many pools in Budapest. Over the years Hungarians have become used to success in international meets (one hopes not all of it chemically induced) and now the bleak end of that era stares the country in the face. I very much hope that the country can re-build its programme, if need be starting from young people, motivated and eager. Certainly the old guard of coaches, trainers and the ‘swimming hierarchy’ must be changed and charged with new energy and direction or will Fidesz incompetence and cronyism get… Read more »
Rozsi
Guest

Congratulations to Hungary and the country’s athletes !!!

Latefor
Guest

What a great achievement for a small country! Congratulations to the brilliant atletes!

Latefor
Guest

Attn: Grammar police: should be athletes! 🙂

petofi
Guest

Here’s a clue as to who cheats in olympic swimming: anyone who beats the field by more than a length is a drug cheat, plain and simple.

petofi
Guest

(Of course, I meant the final and not preliminaries…)

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