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.
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.