Katinka Hosszu almost walked away from sport in 2012
Husband coached her to four medals at Rio
Grandfather backed her to shine after spotting talent
It’s a marriage that is literally 24/7. One of swimming’s biggest stars of Rio 2016 is coached by her husband and it’s a relationship that prompted much debate as she stormed to three gold medals.
Many have questioned whether it’s possible to navigate the complications involved in a dynamic involving athlete and coach as well as wife and husband. Katinka Hosszu, though, wouldn’t have things any other way.
“It’s amazing to share it [success] with someone that you really love,” Katinka told CNN’s Don Riddell, as she reflected on her marriage and partnership with husband and coach Shane Tusup. “So it’s been really special for us.”
The Hungarian had been so disillusioned with swimming after narrowly missing out on a medal at London 2012 that she nearly threw in the towel.
But backed by Tusup, the 27-year-old swimmer reconsidered – and a dramatic turnaround has followed those dark, doubt-filled days.
Hosszu’s change of heart has paid off in spectacular style, and she will be the star of the show when the World Aquatics Championships come to her swimming-mad home country next year.
Tusup’s high-visibility approach to coaching – he has become something of a mini-celebrity poolside and has his wife’s “Iron Lady” nickname tattooed on his arm – isn’t to the taste of everyone in swimming.
But Hosszu, who also won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics, insists: “I’m really happy [with the way he works], because honestly I wouldn’t be in Rio if he wasn’t with me after London.
“I most likely would have walked away from the sport, and it’s just crazy to think that now, four years later, I’m sitting here talking to you and I have four medals and three of them are gold … I was thinking of quitting.
Hosszu believes those who whisper that Tusup is too pushy, taking a little too much of the spotlight, “wouldn’t say a word” if it wasn’t for the fact that he is married to her.
“People are only talking about it because they look at him as my husband on the pool deck,” she explains, stressing: “When he’s on the pool deck he’s my coach, not my husband.”
Tusup masterminds a training regime that can last for up to eight hours a day, and Hosszu says she has taken only one day off in the last four years.
And the “Iron Lady” – who acquired the nickname due to her knack of seemingly never tiring when swimming a number of events – has banished her old insecurities.
On day one in Rio, she shattered the women’s 400 meters medley milestone of 4:28.3 set by China’s Ye Shiwen, knocking more than two seconds off the time to win gold by almost five seconds over America’s Maya DiRado.
She added further golds in the 100m backstroke and the 200m individual medley – in which she set an Olympic record of 2:06.58 – and won silver in the 200m backstroke, finishing second to DiRado.
She says the “Iron Lady” is a competitive extension of her own personality, explaining: “When I step on the block, you see the ‘Iron Lady.’ Katinka Hosszu is back in the hotel or home with her personal issues, but the ‘Iron Lady’ has no excuses and will fight to bring out my best.”
It seems hard to believe now, but Hosszu’s agonizing 2012 near-miss was damaging enough to make her wonder whether it was time to take her life in a different direction.
“I was actually really close to the podium,” she recalls. “I missed the podium by a couple of tenths [of a second] and I wasn’t even sure if I should continue my swimming career or not.”
But the splash Hosszu has made since then was predicted by one man right from the start.
Her grandfather, she says, always knew she’d make it, spotting her natural talent soon after encouraging her to take up swimming when she was a very young child.
“He actually told my parents that, when I was lying on top of the water really perfectly, I could be an Olympic champion one day,” she recalls.
“He was watching me swim in the Rio Olympics at home in front of the TV, and it must be pretty amazing for him to see that I was able to achieve that after a really long time.”