Katinka Hosszú (3 May, 1989) is a Hungarian IM, butterfly, and freestyle swimmer and is one of the world’s leading athletes in her disciplines.
Having won her first national title as a 14-year-old (400m IM SC), Katinka won her first international medals at the 2004 European Junior Swimming Championships in Lisbon, where she won a gold (4x200m freestyle relay), a silver (4x100m freestyle relay), and two bronze medals (200m freestyle, 400m IM). A month later in Athens she swam in the first of her three Olympics to date, competing in the 200m freestyle. Later in the year she won her first senior international medal, taking home 400m IM bronze from the European SC Championships in Vienna. In 2005 she returned to the European Junior Swimming Championships, this time in front of her home crowd in Budapest, where she demonstrated her talent and versatility over multiple disciplines and distances by winning three gold medals (200m freestyle, 400m IM, 4x100m freestyle relay), two silvers (400m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle) and a bronze (800m freestyle). At December’s European SC Championships in Trieste, she made the finals of both the 200m and 400m IM.
Over the next two years, Katinka continued building her experience, making her debut at the 2006 European LC Championships in Budapest – where she made the finals of the 400m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay, and the semi-finals of the 200m IM and 200m freestyle – and the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne, where she swam the 200m freestyle, 200m IM (making the semi-final), and 400m IM. At the 2007 European SC Championships in Debrecen, she came fourth in the 200m IM and 5th in the 400m IM (having swum the fastest time in the heats).
In 2008, she won her first European medal at the Championships in Eindhoven, winning a 400m IM silver medal, and making the finals in the 200m IM and 4x200m freestyle relay. At Beijing’s Olympics she swam in both IM events, but never made it out of her heats.
After finishing high school in 2008, Katinka moved to Los Angeles to swim with the University of Southern California’s Trojans under coach Dave Salo. Whether or not the move had anything to with it, Katinka’s breakthrough at the top level of international level finally came soon afterwards, when her hard work paid off at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. The crowning moment of her career came in the 400m IM, winning the gold medal and beating both Kirsty Coventry and Stephanie Rice in the process. She also won bronze medals in the 200m IM and 200m butterfly, swam in the final of the 4x200m freestyle relay, and helped break the Hungarian record in the heat of the 4x100m medley relay. Her three medals also produced several records – a new championship and European record in the 400m IM (4:30.31), two new European records in her 200m IM heat and final (2:09.12 and 2:07.46), and a new European record in the 200m butterfly semi-final (2:04.27). All three records are still standing (as of the beginning of 2013).
2010 followed on where 2009 left off, with Katinka winning three golds and a silver at the European Championships in front of her home crowd in Budapest. In addition to the championship record in her 200m IM victory, she also won the 200m fly and 4x200m freestyle relay, adding a second-place finish in 400m IM, and a fourth in 4x100m freestyle relay. At the year-end’s World SC Championships in Dubai, she narrowly missed out on podium finishes in the 200m butterfly and 200m IM – coming fourth in both – and also swam in the Hungarian 4x200m freestyle relay final.
Following two great years of results, Katinka’s 2011 World Championships in Shanghai were disappointing by her standards, finishing 6th in the 200m IM, 5th in the 4x200m freestyle relay, and failing to progress beyond her heats in the 200m fly and 400m IM. In December, however, she made amends by winning the 400m IM and placing third in the 200m IM at the Duel in the Pool in Omaha.
Katinka’s 2012 European Championship results augured well for the London Olympics later in the year, as she picked up three gold medals and a silver in Debrecen in May, winning the 200m fly, and 200m and 400m IM, and snagging the 4x200m freestyle relay silver. Unfortunately, the Olympics did not produce a medal for her, and although she came close with a fourth-placed finish in the 400m IM, her other results included a 200m IM final and 200m butterfly semi-final, while the Hungarian 4x200m freestyle relay team did not progress beyond their heat.
However, it didn’t take long for Katinka to put her disappointment behind her, as she produced a truly remarkable second half of the year, competing in 11 international meets on three continents over a period of 13 weeks. First, she won an incredible 39 gold medals as she won the overall women’s prize in the FINA/Arena World Cup series, which included eight different meets from Doha to Stockholm, and Moscow to Singapore. Two weeks later in Chartres, France, she came away with three golds (200m butterfly, 100m and 200m IM) and a silver (400m IM) from the European SC Championships. Just three weeks after that, at the World SC Championships in Istanbul, her performances earned her Best Female Swimmer of the championships, winning the 200m butterfly and 100m IM, getting silver medals in 200m IM and 200m freestyle, and a bronze in 400m IM. Her two world title swims also set new championship records, with the 200m fly also setting a new European SC record. Barely a week after the Worlds she was in St. Petersburg for the Salnikov Cup, where she won 10 medals, and she ended the year with no less than 14 gold medals at the Indian Ocean Meet in Reunion, which attracted other big names such as Inge Dekker and Britta Steffen.
Far from taking a rest after such a hectic schedule, Katinka launched herself into 2013 with a flurry of busy events, not to mention a move back to Hungary, where she and coach Shane Tusup have joined Vasas Sports Club in Budapest, with the intention of creating a water sports division that they hope to develop into the one of the most successful in the country.
Katinka also has a litany of awards behind her name, including the 2009 and 2010 Hungarian female swimmer of the year, 2009 Hungarian female athlete of the year, 2011 NCAA women’s swimmer of the year, and the prestigious Knight's Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit (2010).
Katinka’s entrée into swimming was not a big surprise, given that she comes from a very sporting family, and her grandfather was a swimming coach. From the age of two he started taking her with him to his training sessions, and since she loved going to the pool and being in the water, she spent a lot of time there, sometimes skipping kindergarten to be there. Before long she had learned to swim, and by the time she was 10 she was training twice a day.
Katinka’s father was a Hungarian hall of fame basketball player, and is now a coach, and both brothers followed him into professional basketball. The family and their sporting sense were important influences early in her swimming career, and they have been key and constant supporters, wherever she’s been in the world and whatever her needs have been.
Leaving her home in Baja, Hungary, when she was 19 to pursue her career with the USC Trojans in Los Angeles was a massive change for Katinka, and she had to grow up quickly, learn a different language, and make new friends. But it was clearly a good move for her – her harvest of international medals so far was most prolific in the four years she was training in LA, and on top of that she also met someone who has made a huge difference in her life: Shane Tusup. As she explains: “He is my boyfriend, my coach, my manager, my psychologist and helps me with pretty much everything. We are a great team together, our synergy is unbelievable.”
Katinka studied psychology during her time at USC, and it’s something she’d like to continue once she stops competing, hopefully in combination with a continuing involvement in the sport that she loves, perhaps as a sports psychologist. After her incredible feats in the last three months of 2012, she’s rapidly developing a reputation as something of an ironwoman, and as she acknowledges, she wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that she did without her strong mental state. “I feel like the mental aspects of racing are much more important than many people think. I have a ton of first-hand experience in this field, especially during the 2012 FINA/ARENA World Cup where I swam many of my races back to back. If I was not completely focused and ready mentally for a race, it affected the results more than when I was just physically tired but mentally ready to compete.” She gives much of this credit to Shane, who she says has helped tremendously with the psychological side of swimming, keeping her grounded but ambitious, and helping her prepare for and get through her hectic 2012 schedule after an Olympic games which perhaps didn’t deliver as much as it promised.
Not surprisingly, the biggest moment in Katinka’s career was her 2009 world title in Rome. As she says, it was hard for to believe: “Before that moment, I never really thought that I could actually be “The ONE” on top of the World Stage.” Aside from the euphoria, however, it was the beginning of a valuable learning curve, as she found what it meant to stay up there as number one. In the end, it’s a real struggle, and while she’s had successes, she’s also had some disappointments, and it’s these that teach the more telling lessons: “I think I may have learned just as much, if not more, from the failures of my career than the successes I have had.” Once again she credits Shane for helping her recognize that one should not be afraid of failing, and that there is actually a “good” way to fail, one where we embrace the lessons that failure teaches us.
One of the things that the London Olympics prompted for Katinka was a rethink on where she wanted to be and what she wanted to be doing. The end result was a return to Hungary, where she and Shane have teamed up with the prominent and historic Vasas Sports Club in Budapest to build up its swimming side. All this amongst an extremely busy schedule early in 2013 that took her to Luxembourg and South Africa, where she participated in one of the country’s premier open water events, the Midmar Mile. It seems there is simply no limit to her energy.
When she has any spare time in her swimming schedule – and one can imagine that it doesn’t take much time for her to call it “spare”, such are her boundless reserves – she likes to indulge in other sports that she’s “discovered”, such as surfing, wakeboarding, horseback riding, equestrian polo, and boxing. When she does eventually relax, she’ll go to the movies, the beach, the aquarium, aqua park, or the zoo.
Musicwise, Katinka loves listening to rap during workouts and before races, including artists like Kanye West, Eminem, Jay-Z, and Chamillionare. “I like their artistic style,” she says, “and the fact that they are genuine and authentic”. Aside from rap, she also likes to listen to a number of DJ’s and dance music.
Since her training and travel schedule hasn’t permitted a visit to a cinema in a while, she watches TV shows on her iPad. Recent favourites have been Sherlock Holmes, Suits, The Bing Bang Theory, and House of Lies.
On the reading front, Katinka has been reading magazines lately rather than books, focusing on learning something rather than simple diversion or entertainment. Her particular interest in finance and investing means that Money Magazine is often her reading choice.
Other interests aside, Katinka is one of those athletes who is so addicted to her sport that she simply can’t do without it. As she reveals: “I feel frustrated and stressed if I can’t swim, I just don’t feel myself. I’m pretty sure that one day I will be one of those old ladies who goes to swim early every morning, and the young swimmers will be asking: ‘Why on earth is she still doing that?’ …” There’s simply nothing you could add to that.