It’s no surprise that there’s so much buzz around the Summer Olympic Games. May it be Michael Phelps breaking records that were set over 2,100 years ago, or Simone Biles proving that she’s literally the greatest Olympic gymnast of all time, there’s excitement for everyone. The talent never fails to blow me away.
Dominating the Olympic swimming arena for the women in Rio is Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu. This is the swimmer’s fourth time at the Olympics. But coming into Rio, she had never won an Olympic medal.
Back in 2012, Hosszu competed in the women’s 400m individual medley. She went out strong, leading America’s Elizabeth Bisel and China’s Ye Shiwen.
“In my mind,” said Hosszu, “I was going there for the gold.”
But after losing her lead in the third and fourth leg of the race, the 2009 World 400m individual medley champion gave up.
“I was so focused on winning. The last 100, I’m not winning anymore. I kind of gave up.” The gold was gone. Battling for bronze didn’t enter her mind either. “I kind of took a couple of easy strokes,” Hosszu said, “and I actually didn’t even make it to the podium.”
This race was on the first night of the London Olympic games in 2012, and Hosszu still had two more events left, as well as a relay. “My Olympics was pretty much done,” she said. “I wanted to go home.”
She finished eighth and ninth in her final races in London before flying home to Hungary with her coach and then soon-to-be-husband, Shane Tusup.
Third Olympics, zero medals.
Tusup said that after they arrived back home, Hosszu hardly left her room for the rest of the month.
“I was pretty much depressed,” she said. “I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to swim.”
Hosszu was born and raised in Baja, Hungary, but moved to Los Angeles, California in 2008. By then, she was already a two-time Olympian, competing for the USC women’s swim team. When the 2012 London Olympics rolled around, Hosszu was an NCAA and World Champion. She had moved to Budapest with the intention of becoming a professional swimmer, but the post-London depression brought on some doubts.
“I couldn’t get her to go to the pool,” Tusup said. “She wouldn’t work out with me.”
Tusup was fed up.
“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 [has] 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.”
Tusup said that was the turning point. “It was definitely not intended to be the pep talk of all-time, but it definitely ended up being that,” he said. “That got her back in the water a little bit.”
In November 2012, Hosszu competed in a FINA World Cup competition in Beijing where she won five medals in just two days. Media in China were fascinated she held up so well while swimming in eight events. They asked her, “Are you made of iron?”
The next day, “Hungary’s iron lady” headlined a newspaper. Since then, Hosszu has been just that. “Iron Lady” is now a brand, and a comic logo was even designed off a photo of Hosszu behind the starting block.
Last year she released a motivational book in Hungary, inspired by her comeback from the London failure and depression. The Iron Lady comic theme followed suit.
Now she’s back, and swimming in her fourth Olympics in Rio. What her husband said to her the night he shook her out of the rut seems to be true, as she has won THREE gold medals in just the first week of competition. The Iron Lady she is.
And the Iron Lady she will always be, now that husband Tusup has the comic logo tattooed on his left bicep.
Hosszu says she’s not burdened by the expectations that sank her from the podium in London. “So much has happened since London,” she explained. “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.”
She has one event left in Rio, and we’re hoping she crushes it and takes home that well-deserved fourth Gold at her fourth Olympic Games.