Secrets behind Hungary’s success in the pool
Secrets behind success in the pool
Published: Jun 23, 2022 05:40 PM
Hungary's Katinka Hosszu competes in a heat for the women's 400 meters individual medley swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 24, 2021. Photo: VCG

Hungary's Katinka Hosszu competes in a heat for the women's 400 meters individual medley swimming event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 24, 2021. Photo: VCG

Katinka Hosszu, Krisztina Egerszegi, Tamas Darnyi, Hungarian water-polo team, all names that were synonymous with gold medals, an incredible feat from a small landlocked central European country with a population of barely 10 million, but little Hungary had better be taken seriously in any international swimming event.

Little Stefania is only 4 years old, but she already spends an hour (15 minutes' game, 45 minutes' work) each day in the water in a swimming complex of Budapest's 11th district.

Her achievement today: to go underwater with her head completely under, without swimming goggles, and without tears!

Taking children to go swimming in Hungary is as natural as taking them to ski in Austria, or for Canadian children to play ice hockey.

"It is absolutely normal for us that every child should learn to swim," Stefania's mother, Ildiko Muller, told Xinhua. "It is like learning to read or write, or to ride a bicycle."

Ildiko takes some time to work on her tan and read a magazine during her daughter's one-hour lesson.

Stefania comes to private lessons, but the little girl, with her curly blond hair, could have chosen to go swimming with her kindergarten class.

A possible explanation of Hungary's success is the so-called National Swimming Program (UNP) of the Hungarian Swimming Association.

The UNP is a unique and comprehensive program that integrates in a complex way the educational, infrastructural, professional and methodological areas necessary for the introduction of swimming lessons for pre-school and primary school children up to the third grade.

The long-term goal of the program is to encourage children to lead healthy lifestyles and thereby improve their quality of life.

The medium-term goal is for all children to have the opportunity to learn water-safe swimming by Grade 3 in primary school.

"The children convinced me to join this program," local swimming phenomenon Egerszegi said in an interview to local newspaper Mandiner before the 19th FINA World Championships. "It's really all about teaching all toddlers to swim confidently within an organized setting, from preschoolers to second graders. What really catches me is that even children who would never have the opportunity to learn to swim can do so."

Egerszegi, born in 1974, is a former world record holder and one of the greatest Hungarian Olympic champions of the modern era.

She is the first female swimmer to win five individual Olympic gold medals, and the second swimmer after Dawn Fraser to have won the same individual event at three consecutive Olympics (1988, 1992 and 1996).

She held the world record in the long course 200 meters backstroke for almost 17 years.

Some say that to be a good swimmer is in the genes of Hungarians, but top-notch swimming complexes like the FINA event's top venue, the Duna Arena, and a large network of others that popped up recently, underline how seriously the sport is taken in Hungary.

In Hungary, a true tradition of swimming is based on successive generations of inspirational swimmers and coaches such as Tamas Szechy, a local legend who died in 2004, and led eight swimmers to 15 Olympic medals (eight golds), from 1972 to 1996.

Another possible source for Hungarian's love of water can be found in its bathing and spa culture, dating back to Roman times.

Hungary has over 1,000 thermal water springs, including over 100 in the capital, not to mention Lake Balaton, central Europe's largest lake, which welcomes millions of tourists besides Hungarians, who enjoy its clean, shallow turquoise waters.

Alfred Hajos, Hungary's first modern Olympic swimming champion, designed one of Europe's first indoor pools - opened in 1930 - with a specialty: The pool did not need a heating system as thermal water was channeled up from underground sources. This allowed Hungarian swimmers and water polo players to train all year round, unlike their rivals from around the world.

Today, the swimming complex named after him is still in use, and as the artistic swimming competition venue of the FINA World Championships, it continues to present wonderful competitions to the audience.