Katinka Hosszu

Katinka Hosszu emerges from depression to become swimming’s Iron Lady

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It’s July 28, 2012. What turns out to be the night of the most scrutinized 100 meters of swimming at the London Olympics.

China’s Ye Shiwen, 16, covers the final two lengths of the eight-length 400m individual medley in 58.68 seconds, a time that didn’t seem possible for a woman.

Ye destroyed those closing 100 meters of freestyle 2.9 seconds faster than the next swiftest finalist and .03 slower than men’s 400m individual medley gold medalist Ryan Lochte. She shattered the women’s 400m IM world record by 1.03 seconds.

The last 100 meters were watched again and again, the eye-popping, dubious Ye flying past American Elizabeth Beisel for gold.

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu says she remembers everything about that race. Ye was in lane five. Hosszu was in lane three.

“In my mind,” said Hosszu, the 2009 World 400m IM champion, “I was going there for the gold.”

Hosszu led Ye, Beisel and the field after 100 meters of butterfly and at the 200-meter mark, after the backstroke leg. But she fell behind Beisel and Ye on the breaststroke and trailed by 1.89 seconds going into those final 100 meters.

“A lot of people tell you before the race, stay positive, and you cannot think about what happens if you lose,” Hosszu said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I was so focused on winning. The last 100, I’m not winning anymore. I kind of gave up.”

Hosszu turned at the 300-meter mark, looked ahead, breathed to her right and saw the feet of Beisel and Ye pulling away. The gold was gone. Battling for bronze didn’t enter her mind.

“I kind of took a couple of easy strokes,” Hosszu said, “and I actually didn’t even make it to the podium.”

Hosszu trailed by 3.06 seconds after 350 meters, still clinging to third place, but was passed by China’s Li Xuanxu for bronze in the final stretch. She finished fourth, 5.06 seconds behind Ye and .58 of a second behind Li.

It was the first night of swimming at the London Games. Hosszu, then 23, had two more individual events left, plus a relay.

“My Olympics was pretty much done,” she said. “I wanted to go home.”

Hosszu stayed and finished eighth and ninth in her remaining races. Then she flew to Hungary with soon-to-be coach and husband Shane Tusup and, for a third straight Olympics, zero medals.

“You know, this could be the best thing that ever happened to you,” Tusup told Hosszu on the plane. He said Hosszu yelled back at him. Hosszu said she laughed and told him it was the stupidest thing she’d ever heard.

“Then I don’t think she talked to me for about 24 hours,” Tusup said.

The London Olympic Closing Ceremony was Aug. 12. Tusup said Hosszu, after arriving home, barely left her room the rest of the month.

“I was pretty much depressed,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to swim.”

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

This week is the Arena Pro Swim Series stop in Mesa, Ariz. The field includes Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and Katie Ledecky, who own a combined 34 Olympic medals and six world records in Olympic events.

The field also includes one reigning FINA World Swimmer of the Year. That’s Hosszu.

She eventually dived back in the pool after the London letdown and worked to become the world’s best all-around female swimmer with 16 months to go before the Rio Olympics.

Hosszu swept the 200m and 400m individual medleys at the 2013 World Championships (Ye was fourth and seventh in those races).

In 2014, she bagged six medals at the European Championships and eight at the World Short Course Championships (none of Ye, Ledecky or Missy Franklin competed at either of those meets) and was chosen over Ledecky by FINA, swimming’s international governing body, as its Female Swimmer of the Year.

“Nobody can argue right now that she’s not the most versatile swimmer in the world, male or female,” NBC Olympics swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines said.

Hosszu’s resurgence started in late 2012, following a look into the mirror with Tusup.

They met in 2008, shortly after Hosszu moved from her native Baja, Hungary (population 40,000) to Los Angeles to attend USC and compete for the Trojans. Her grandfather was her coach until age 13, taking her to a six-lane, 25-meter pool before she could walk.

By 2008, Hosszu was a two-time Olympian but not fully fluent in English when she moved into her college dorm with a bag of clothes and nothing with which to dress her bed. It was her first time in the U.S.

“After like two weeks, I remember calling my mom and crying and telling her I’m going home,” Hosszu said. “I can’t do it. I can’t speak to anyone. They don’t understand what I say.”

Her mom convinced her to stay until Christmas. In the meantime, Hosszu felt comfortable enough to verbally reject Tusup, a fellow USC swimmer, the first four times he asked her out on a date. Finally, she relented.

“After the first date, then we were together like 24/7,” Tusup joked, “and together pretty much every day since then.”

Hosszu’s four years with USC were up in summer 2012. Already an NCAA and World champion, she moved to Budapest to become a professional swimmer. But the post-London depression brought second thoughts.

“I couldn’t get her to go to the pool,” Tusup said. “She wouldn’t work out with me.”

Tusup got sick and tired of it and eventually put Hosszu in front of a mirror.

“It was definitely not intended to be the pep talk of all-time,” he said, “but it definitely ended up being that.

“I told her, you’ve experienced the worst, basically, for a swimmer, to be .5 away from a medal. … This, what you’re feeling right now, is the worst that you’ll ever feel. … You’re still alive. Your family still loves you. You’re still healthy. I didn’t leave. Nobody who cares about you left your side. Now you know what it feels like. It’s never going to be as bad as the first time it happened to you.”

“That was the turning point,” Tusup said. “That got her back in the water a little bit.”

In November 2012, Hosszu competed in a FINA World Cup competition in Beijing and earned five medals in two days.

Media in China were fascinated she held up so well while swimming in eight events, including three individual medleys, backstroke, butterfly and even an 800m freestyle. Are you made of iron, they asked.

The next day, “Hungary’s iron lady” appeared in an article, Hosszu said. International swimming media picked up on it. So did meet announcers.

Hosszu and Tusup eventually embraced the nickname. “Iron Lady” is now a brand. A comic logo was designed off this photo taken of Hosszu behind a starting block.

My book cover 🙂 (in English in April) #ironlady #AmagyarIronLady

A post shared by Iron Lady (@hosszukatinka) on

 

Last year, Hosszu released a motivational book in Hungary inspired by her comeback from the London failure. Tusup said 7,000 copies have been sold.

“We were hoping to help one or two people in Hungary,” Tusup said. “A lot of them come from really small towns like Katinka did.”

Swimming is among Hungary’s most successful Olympic sports with 26 gold medals and 68 total, according to sports-reference.com.

Hosszu grew up idolizing Krisztina Egerszegi, the affectionately known “Little Mouse” who captured 200m backstroke gold at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Olympics, plus four more medals.

Five-time Olympic medalist Laszlo Cseh could have been the world’s best all-around men’s swimmer in the mid-2000s, if not for Phelps and Lochte.

When Guadalajara, Mexico, backed out of hosting the 2017 World Aquatics Championships in March, it was the Hungarian capital of Budapest that quickly stepped in.

Hosszu is the two-time reigning Hungarian Sportswoman of the Year and is splashed on fashion and news magazine covers back home. She’s spending less time in Budapest malls and having more people run errands for her.

“When people do bring their kids over, they introduce Katinka as the Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu,” Tusup said. “You’re sitting there going, uh, actually, no, not really. But you kind of go with it.”

She recently swam with heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschcko, played an April Fool’s joke on social media that she received breast implants and got the attention of her longtime U.S. sports hero, LeBron James, with a homemade sign at an NBA game.

“It may sound weird, but I think we are similar in a way,” Hosszu, whose father was a basketball player and whose older brother plays professionally in Germany, said of James. “He had to be a failure. For the longest time he didn’t have a championship title.”

Obviously, the relationship between Hosszu and Tusup is stronger than most athletes and coaches. But Tusup took it a step further this month while she trained in Texas. He spent five hours with a tattoo artist getting the “Iron Lady” logo inked on his left bicep. Hosszu watched.

 

“I think she was a little worried that the comic version of her and her face would be put on my body,” Tusup said. “As it settles on my arm it’s looking nicer and nicer.”

Tusup said he chose the left bicep because that’s the arm he flexes toward her before races while telling her, “Be strong.”

“I’m going to do this because you inspire me to want to be better,” Tusup said. “I want you to know that I’m committed, too.”

The commitment will last through Rio and potentially to Tokyo 2020.

Gaines said Hosszu is the favorite to sweep the individual medleys at the Olympics, starting with a return to the 400m IM on the first day of competition, as it was in London.

Hosszu posted the world’s fastest times in both individual medleys in 2013 and in the 200m IM in 2014. But Ye popped up again in the 400m IM at the Chinese Championships last May, clocking her fastest time since 2012. It held up as the fastest in the world for the year.

The World Championships in Kazan, Russia, in August figure to be a showdown.

“There’ll be another Ye Shiwen [in Rio],” Gaines said. “[Hosszu] might want to get ready for that because it’s going to happen.”

Hosszu insisted she will be better prepared for her fourth Olympics. She’s certainly no longer the awed 15-year-old who collected Phelps’ and Ian Thorpe‘s autographs at Athens 2004. She’s also not burdened by expectations that sank her from the podium in London.

“So much has happened since London,” Hosszu said. “I really do feel like I got so much out of the sport. What I want to do in Rio is really go after the medals, but I am going to be OK if I don’t get it.”

Flashback: Michael Phelps at Sydney 2000 Olympics

Usain Bolt reveals extent of injury after hearing doubts

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Usain Bolt shared the extent of his injury — a torn hamstring requiring three months of rehab — after people questioned if he was really hurt at the world championships Saturday, according to tweets from his account since deleted.

“I don’t usually release my medical report to the public but sadly I have sat and listened to people questioning if I was really injured,” was posted on Bolt’s account. “I have never been one to cheat my fans in anyway (sic) & my entire desire at the championship was run one last time for my fans.”

Bolt pulled up with the leg injury running anchor on the 4x100m relay at worlds and then tumbled onto the track not yet halfway to the finish line.

A wheelchair was brought out, but Bolt got up and walked across the finish line, aided by his teammates.

Since, unconfirmed reports have surfaced that Bolt could play in a Manchester United exhibition game, but the seriousness of his injury revealed Thursday could put an end to that, at least for now.

The injury has not sidelined Bolt completely. He was able to go bowling earlier this week.

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U.S. men’s gymnastics team hits reset at P&G Championships

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — The sprawling sleeve of tattoos running down Alex Naddour‘s left arm is unmissable. The American flag on the shoulder. The Olympic rings running down the inside of his forearm. They serve as a testament to the Olympic bronze medalist’s passion and his longevity.

Oh and if they happen to send a message to the sea of new faces the national team captain finds himself surrounded by these days, all the better.

At 26, Naddour admits he’s “kind of the old guy,” and he’s not wrong. The core of the 2012 and 2016 Olympic teams are hurt, retired or both. Jonathan Horton. Jake Dalton. Danell Leyva. John Orozco. Chris Brooks. All have moved on.

Four-time national champion Sam Mikulak is recovering from his second major Achilles injury. Donnell Whittenburg is searching to regain the form that made him an all-around finalist at the 2015 World Championships.

Naddour isn’t exactly healthy, either, just six months removed from an arm issue he suffered at a meet in February that will limit him to just pommel horse and rings when the P&G Championships begin on Thursday night.

P&G CHAMPS: Men’s Preview | Women’s Preview
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That’s fine. Naddour still has time. He’s well aware that he’s a bridge of sorts between the old generation and the next one.

“I want these guys to feel what we felt [when we came up],” Naddour said. “We looked up to those guys [before us] and hopefully these guys look up to me because I’m team captain. Hopefully they take what I have to say seriously and take my experience seriously to help them get ready for what they need to get ready for.”

Namely, returning the U.S. to international prominence. While the women’s program has become a podium-hogging machine over the last decade, the men have struggled with inconsistency. They finished fifth in the team finals in both 2012 and 2016.

Though there have been flashes of individual success — like Leyva’s bronze in the all-around in London and Naddour’s bronze on pommel horse in Rio — the Americans have been on a treadmill, one that cost national team coordinator Kevin Mazeika his job last fall.

Enter Brett McClure. The 2004 Olympic team silver medalist was appointed the “high performance director” in February and charged with providing a needed jolt. Consider the message received.

“He’s the type of person that’s not going to beat around the bush,” Whittenburg said. “If something is bothering him, he’s going to let you know straight up. If there’s a problem, how do we fix it? I feel like the last couple [Olympic cycles] I felt we were missing that stern leadership. Sometimes you can’t be the nice guy all the time.”

The men have borrowed a page from former women’s national team coordinator Martha Karolyi‘s playbook. Training camps are now treated more like competitions, with members of the national team and world championship teams flown in to watch. The goal is creating a more competitive environment.

“You’re saluting, and it’s like you’re at championships, so you have to do your best,” Naddour said. “It’s going to help the national team grow a lot quicker and adjust in those pressure situations.”

Good, because they’re coming. Even if Naddour, Mikulak and Whittenburg all make the world championships roster when it’s released after Saturday night’s competition, it leaves three spots for newcomers. No pressure or anything.

Yul Moldauer captured the AT&T American Cup in March, beating a field that included Olympic silver medalist Oleg Verniaiev. Akash Modi served as an alternate on the 2016 Olympic team and won the NCAA all-around title for Stanford this spring. Allan Bower and Eddie Penev are also in the mix.

The lights will come on. It’s time to get a gauge on how the strategic plan put in place after an underwhelming team performance in the Olympics is working.

“If the whole world watches this competition and is like, `we’ve got them,’ then boo us,” said Mikulak, who will compete on pommel horse and high bar. “The world doesn’t know what’s going on with USA Gymnastics until we show ourselves in this competition. I hope everyone competing has a good performance to show the world that we’re not as weak as we look to them.”

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