László Cseh is training for one of the biggest competitions of his life in the run-up to the Rio Olympics. The world-class competitive swimmer is going to graduate from BME after the 2017 World Championship to be held in Budapest.
In August you’ll have to give your best in the pool. How are you getting ready for a major competition like this?
The frequency and methods of training are the same as in the run-up to European and World Championships. But this time I’m going to participate in a championship that I’ve never won, and it’s only held every four years, so it requires more focused attention and discipline on my part. I’m keeping up the proven training plan with some fine-tuning in the methods. In time I’m going to have to get used to the Brazil time zone especially because the finals will be held at 10 p.m. local time, and that means that I’ll not only have to cope with jet lag but I’ll also have to give my best at bedtime. Nowadays I get up at 5 a.m., and train in the pool and the gym. I do swim training twice a day, in the morning and the evening, and work out twice a week. I only rest on Sundays if I don’t have a competition coming up.
Is there no proper training without competitions?
Exactly. Although I have already qualified for the Olympics, I go on participating in competitions, and I keep in shape. It’s true I currently weigh a bit more than I should but it’s no problem since my fitness improves if I have to move a bigger body bulk when training. I strive to be in the best possible shape for the Rio Olympics and hope that it will earn me a gold medal. The Olympic gold medal has tempted me for years but I could never capture one.
Do you feel the pressure of having to live up to the expectations?
I do feel the significance of the Olympics. I am strongly determined to go for gold, and it’s not weighing me down any more, it is my goal now. I think I have every chance to win it, at the same time I’m aware that the public expects it from me. I don’t mean to disappoint people but what really matters to me is what I think, and not the expectations of others. I want to deliver results first and foremost because it’s important to me. What matters most to me is to give my best in the competition and beat my rivals. I’ll be happy to succeed in that even if it’ll not be enough to bring home a gold medal.
Are you expecting a fierce competition in the finals?
I hope for, and I’m expecting an exciting competition. I don’t just want to win, I want to beat my competitors. Phelps still has to qualify for Rio, but I truly hope that we both will participate in the finals. Whenever the two of us competed, it was usually him who won but I would really love to turn the tables this time. There are, of course, other talented swimmers apart from him, for example Chad Le Clos that I need to watch out for. Seeing their results I know I won’t have it easy, and have to train hard. I hope they feel the same, and regard me as a worthy rival. My competitors and I have a really good relationship for that matter, we acknowledge and respect each other, and that drives us to try and beat each other.
You are over 30, which is not a young age for a competitive swimmer. What are your thoughts on this?
In swimming, just like in most sports, the age limit keeps extending, and I don’t think I am old. I have to be more on top of things like physical recovery, intensity of trainings, and I have to find the time to get adequate rest between training sessions. Of course, there have been changes compared to my fitness level at age 20, but this doesn’t mean that I’m impaired in any way. These days I train more consciously, and I’m able to push my boundaries even more when preparing for competitions. When I was 20 I just jumped into the water and swam as fast as I could. Now I am fully aware of what I want to achieve. I couldn’t even step onto the starting block without first mentally swimming the course and trying to predict the possible competitive situations. These seemingly insignificant methods play an important part in good achievements.
Do these methods also help you cope with failure?
A sport psychologist taught me how to cope with failure, which is an essential part of an athlete’s life. Everybody makes light of it until it actually happens to them. It does make a difference whether you brood over a loss for a week or get over it in a day. I’m very emotional, which means that bad experiences really get me down. It happened quite a few times that I hit rock bottom during training or between two competitions but through conscious effort I recovered and became emotionally stronger. The most memorable case was when I had carelessly broken my leg, and competed with the injury suffering horrible pain. I can’t afford getting stuck in a negative frame of mind in such instances. It’s only natural if an athlete is afraid of failure but they only become pros when they learn to accept their failures and are able to live with them.
You swapped your main styles, backstroke and medley, for butterfly. Is it something like finding a new profession?
I’ve always been good at butterfly, now I just get on with strengthening my skills. I got a bit bored with the 400-meter medley and backstroke, I badly needed a breath of fresh air to keep up my motivation. I’ve wanted to challenge myself and it seems to have proven to be the right decision.
More than a year ago you changed your club and coach. Was it worth it?
It was a bold move but last year’s results, especially my World Championship win, speak for themselves. I’m in the best hands. My coach, Zsolt Plagányi, welcomes my intuition and insights that I share with him. The year 2015 proved to be a milestone in other ways too – we changed the training technique, together we analyse video footages of the competitions and fix my mistakes. For instance my start was too slow at the World Championship, this is one thing that I need to practise. Occasionally I was overanxious about competitions, so now I try and keep a more relaxed and easy attitude.
How is your supporting team made up?
There is a complete performance diagnostics team behind me that is charged with monitoring the functions of my system, and working out solutions whenever a problem or anomaly occurs. They make a sort of biological passport of me, they chart my body, and find out the threshold values for different indicators. The latter are very important in view of the blood and urine anti-doping tests that can happen any time and are to be expected following a good swimming result.
Apart from my professional team I can rely on my family to stand by me and wholly support me. They don’t accompany me to the competitions, I feel more at ease to know that they are safe and sound at home. My father’s insight and acknowledgement are of special importance to me since in his day he was an elite competitive swimmer like me.
How do you cope with your popularity?
I like it when people congratulate me, it’s a legal way of „getting high” for us athletes. I’ve got used to popularity, although I’m not really keen on standing in the limelight. Our way of life requires strict discipline, and I believe that as a public figure I have to set a good example. I do strive for that in my daily life. I don’t provide material for the tabloids, or run red lights, or speed, or park illegally. I accept that people are curious and want to know more about an elite athlete’s life than, say, 20 years ago. I try and draw the line between my public persona and my private life.
There have been several world-class competitive swimmers in Hungary. Do you think that we, Hungarians are a nation of swimmers?
We have a good genetic makeup for swimming, and the selection method of competitive swimmers is effective. Our clubs are excellent, and they help talented swimmers to show off their skills at international competitions. It is a unique Hungarian characteristic that we are able to swim long distances with great intensity, and for a long time this ability alone made a competitive swimmer. The training methods have changed though, and the new techniques are spreading to Hungary – we swim less, but it’s quality, „technical” swimming that we do. I find that it works for me and the younger swimmers as well.
Is swimming trendy nowadays?
Swimming hasn’t lost its popularity a bit – it’s a healthy sport activating several different muscles that teaches you perseverance and discipline. Talents are picked out early on. As an elite athlete I take it upon myself to promote swimming, and I regularly meet youngsters in elementary and high schools to share with them the inspiration that drives me in the pool every time.
Last year was marked by outstanding performance on your part, you won one World and three European Championship gold medals. You were chosen „Male Athlete of the Year” in 2015, and according to Forbes Magazine you’re Hungary’s second highest earning athlete. What do these recognitions mean to you?
I feel honoured by them, and they reinforce my belief that I’m on the right track. I worked very hard last year, and it yielded results, I won the World Championship, which was the most memorable moment for me in 2015. The other medals and awards were the icing on the cake, I was especially pleased with the „Athlete of the Year” award. I longed for this award for 10 years. 2005 was another successful year for me when I felt I had given my best, still I wasn’t found worthy of this award. I was disappointed and decided not to focus on awards any more, I wanted to deliver results because it’s important to me. And so it was a huge surprise when I found out that I was awarded the trophy of the best athlete.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m not sure what to say as right now I’m preoccupied with the Rio Olympics and the Budapest World Championship in 2017. The next step for me is to graduate from BME. I started out majoring in engineering-informatics, and was really interested in it but soon realized that it didn’t fit in with my life as an elite athlete. I never left BME though, I took up a new major, I’m now studying engineering management. I’m to graduate soon but I’ll only be able to focus on my thesis after the championships. I’d really love to make use of what I’ve learned but I don’t know yet what I’ll do in the future. One thing is certain: I can’t imagine my life without swimming, it will always be a part of my life.
Results: 69 international medals, 132 national medals, of which he won 92 gold medals.
7 times chosen as „Swimmer of the Year”, in 2015 he won the „Male Athlete of the Year” award.
Forbes magazine named him as the the second highest earning Hungarian athlete.
After his 400-meter medley WC win in Montreal in 2005 it was again in 2015 that he became a world champion – this time in the 200-meter butterfly. He came second in the 100-meter butterfly, and won a bronze medal in the 50-meter butterfly.
In 2015 Cseh captured 3 gold medals in the events of 100-meter butterfly, 200-meter butterfly (setting a new European record), and 200-meter medley in the European Short Course Swimming Championships in Netanya.
His results in the European Swimming Championships in London in May 2016:
100-meter butterfly – gold medal, new European and national record
200-meter butterfly – gold medal, new European record
50-meter butterfly – silver medal
4×100-meter medley relay – bronze medal (team: Gábor Balog, Gábor Financsek, László Cseh, Richárd Bohus)
European record holder in the 400 and 200 meters medley, and in the 200-meter butterfly
Short Course World and European record holder in the 200 and 400 meters medley
In April 2016 he picked up his 100th Hungarian gold medal in exclusively 50-meter pool
TZS - TJ
Fotó: Takács Ildikó