The secrets of Hungary’s success in the pool

Katinka Hosszu of Hungary competes in a heat for the Women’s 400 Meter Medley at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 24, 2021. Photo: VCG

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

Little Stefania is only 4 years old, but she already spends an hour (15 minutes of play, 45 minutes of work) every day in the water of an aquatic complex in the 11th district of Budapest.

His feat today: going underwater with his head completely down, without swimming goggles, and without tears!

Taking kids swimming in Hungary is as natural as taking them skiing in Austria or Canadian kids playing ice hockey.

“It is absolutely normal for us that every child learns to swim,” Stefania’s mother Ildiko Muller told Xinhua. “It’s like learning to read or write, or to ride a bike.”

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

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

One possible explanation for Hungary’s success is the Hungarian Swimming Association’s so-called National Swimming Program (UNP).

The UNP is a unique and comprehensive program that intricately integrates the educational, infrastructural, professional and methodological areas necessary for the introduction of swimming lessons for children from preschool and elementary school up to the third grade.

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

The medium-term goal is for all children to have the opportunity to learn to swim safely in water by year 3 in primary school.

“The kids convinced me to join this program,” local swimming phenom Egerszegi said in an interview with local newspaper Mandiner ahead of the 19th FINA World Championships. “It’s really about teaching all toddlers to swim confidently in an organized setting, from preschoolers to second graders. What really appeals to me is that even the children who would never have the opportunity to learn to swim can do it.”

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 swimmer to win five individual Olympic gold medals and the second swimmer after Dawn Fraser to win the same individual event at three consecutive Olympic Games (1988, 1992 and 1996).

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

Some say being a good swimmer is in the Hungarians’ genes, but top-notch swimming complexes like FINA’s top event venue, Duna Arena, and a vast array of others that have sprung up recently , highlight how seriously sport is taken. in Hungary.

In Hungary, a true tradition of swimming rests on successive generations of inspiring swimmers and coaches like Tamas Szechy, a local legend who died in 2004, who led eight swimmers to 15 Olympic medals (eight gold medals), 1972 to 1996.

Another possible source of Hungary’s love of water can be found in its bath and spa culture, which dates back to Roman times.

Hungary has more than 1,000 thermal springs, including more than 100 in the capital, not to mention Lake Balaton, the largest lake in Central Europe, which welcomes millions of tourists in addition to Hungarians, who enjoy its clean, shallow turquoise waters.

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

Today, the swimming complex that bears his name is still in use, and as the FINA World Championships Artistic Swimming competition venue, it continues to present wonderful competitions to the public.

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