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A race offi cial looks on as eventual

winner Éva Risztov approaches a turn in the women's Olympic marathon swim

collected a bronze in the men’s 200m individual medley, and that was behind Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Like many top open water swimmers Risztov also excels in the pool. In they 2004 Olympics she fi nished 4th in the gruelling 400m individual medley and she won multiple medals in European Championships between 2002 and 2004. Then, in 2005 she retired from swimming. However, despite her many successes she hadn’t achieved her childhood ambition. “When I was a young girl, I pledged to myself that I would be an Olympic champion,” she says. “This dream motivated me to return to the pool.” That was in 2009. The break did her good. “Since I returned to swimming my performance in the pool became bet er. I broke almost all of my records.” In 2008, marathon swimming became an Olympic discipline. The

at raction for Risztov was obvious. “I was always aware of the fact that the longer the distance is the more chance I have to win. That was the main reason I opted for open water.”

At the 2010 European Swimming Championships she demonstrated her 10km strengths with a seventh-place fi nish on home soil in Budapest. Unfortunately, disqualifi cation in the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai meant she missed an early opportunity to qualify for the 2012 Games. Instead, she had to contest the second qualifying event in Setubal, Portugal, just two months before the Games. In a tough race she fi nished second to the USA’s Haley Anderson, and by a small margin beat fellow Hungarian Anna Olasz to take her country’s only marathon swim slot at the Olympics. She also qualifi ed in the pool for both the women’s 400m and 800m freestyle events but didn’t progress to the fi nals. She believes pool swimming is essential to her open water success. “If you look at the top open water swimmers, they are

all successful in the pool. I think the two types of swimming can complement each other,” she says. Her use of pools is also a result of her being constrained by geography: “I prepare for the competitions in the pool because in Hungary training in open water is not a real option.” Risztov also relishes the mental side of open water swimming.

“For me, it is exciting, because it very much depends on your current mental state and the tactics you follow, and how fast you can react in diff erent situations.” Before this year’s Olympics there was a lot of talk about World Champion Keri-Anne Payne’s preferred strategy of leading the race throughout to avoid some of the physicality of swimming in the pack, but at the same time foregoing the benefi ts of draſt ing. Risztov confi rmed that she adopted a similar approach for her victory. “I decided to swim in the lead to avoid direct physical contact and fi ghting with the others. Fortunately, during the race I could do everything that I had planned before the competition.” At the same time she managed to achieve a relaxed mental state.

“I was very calm during the whole race,” she says. “I did not feel any pressure, and did not feel that I was swimming the most important race of my life. I thought that it was just one of many other races.” Was she concerned by Payne, or other athletes who had

previously beaten her? “No, I concentrated on myself. I just wanted to do my best and swim as fast as I can.” Having retired once before and now having achieved a lifetime ambition, it would be understandable if Risztov decided to throw in the towel and hang up her cap, goggles and costume for good, but she feels she has unfi nished business in the world of swimming. “I still don’t know why I was disqualifi ed in the World Championships last year, so I am preparing for next year. I would like to have a good race there.” ○


Photo © Wei-Feng Xue

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