Medley queen Katinka Hosszu doesn’t need mentoring

The three-time Olympic champ explains why she will compete at the Tokyo Olympics without a coach, and why female athletes sometimes don't get the credit they deserve.
By Andrew Binner

Many onlookers were shocked in November 2019 when Katinka Hosszu announced that she would compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics without a coach.

The three-time Olympic swimming champion had decided to part ways with Arpad Petrov in the aftermath of the Gwangju 2019 FINA world championships, citing his lack of determination to win despite her retaining the 200m and 400m individual medley titles.

“It turned out that he could not rise up to the task,” the Hungarian said in a statement. “I expected more attention from him both professionally and personally, so there is no going back."

Rather than finding a replacement and having to learn another set of training methods, the Iron Lady decided to go it alone, supported instead by her teammates and staff at her International Swimming League franchise, Iron Swim.

“I cannot bear the burden of carrying someone on my back again. I have decided to do the Tokyo Olympics on my own and assume all responsibility.”

According to the swimmer, she had been writing her own training plan for some time, and had no issues in motivating herself to practise for 8-10 hours a day.

Continuing that pattern therefore seemed the most logical decision.

"I wanted to scream, 'I know what I'm doing'!"

The break from Petrov signified Hosszu’s second split from a coach in two years.

In 2018, she suffered an acrimonious divorce from her husband and capricious coach Shane Tusip, under whom she smashed the 200 IM world record in 2015, before winning three gold medals at the Rio 2016 Olympics and setting another world record in the 400 IM.

After that split, Hosszu was inundated - and quickly irritated - by questions regarding her ability to win without Tusip driving her.

"I wanted to scream, 'I know what I'm doing!'" Hosszu told Sports Illustrated. "I wasn't scared at all. I was confident. As a woman, it is sometimes a bit different than [it is] for male athletes. Sometimes the coaches get more credit than the athletes."

But Hosszu drowned her doubters out to seal her eighth and ninth long course world titles at the 2019 world champs.

Is Hosszu swimming’s Roger Federer?

The notion of an athlete, who is considered one of the greatest of all time in their sport, coaching themselves is not so unheard of.

Take tennis legend Roger Federer, winner of an unmatched 20 singles Grand Slam titles, an individual silver medal at London 2012, and doubles gold from Beijing 2008.

The Swiss’ illustrious career has regularly featured periods where he has coached himself, like in 2004 when he won three Grand Slam titles solo.

It is simply a fact that Federer and Hosszu have achieved such a level of performance and dominance in their respective careers, that there isn’t much a new coach could teach them.

While Hosszu still has staff at her franchise to help analyse her training performances, and her motivation to be the best still burns as brightly as ever within, the Hungarian believes her bases are all covered in the pursuit of further Olympic glory.

Looking ahead to the Tokyo Olympics

Hosszu’s remarkable achievements in the water have seen her become a bona fide celebrity in her native Hungary.

In addition to a relentless training schedule ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games, she also owns the Team Iron ISL franchise and runs the Iron Aquatics swimming school in Budapest.

“I don’t feel old. I know it’s not very common to swim where I am at 30 but I still feel like I learned so much about how I need to prepare and what I need to do and how to race,” she told Reuters.

“I have accumulated so much knowledge and experience throughout my years that I think it will be a bigger advantage than this one year, than my body will be ‘older’.

Hosszu places such value on the accumulation of swimming knowledge through experience, that even though she's clearly frustrated by the lack of pool time, she doesn’t see the COVID-19-enforced delay to the Games as a problem.

“If I take care of my body, if I do my training and I get ready, I really don’t think it will make a difference that one year.”

The moral of the story is: never doubt the Iron Lady.