On Saturday night, Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu shattered the world record in the 400-meter individual medley. It’s called the “individual” medley because it’s completed start to finish by exactly one person—all eight laps of it. Interestingly, Hosszu was not the primary person given credit for Hosszu’s success.
Much has been made of Hosszu’s relationship with her trainer/husband Shane Tusup, who has been described by those who know him in terms that aren’t exactly flattering. Hosszu’s former coach, Dave Salo, told the New York Times that Hosszu has changed noticeably under Tusup’s guidance.
“I think the biggest issue with her is her husband,” he said. “I think you have to look at her motivation. Is it fear or confidence that is driving her?”
Tusup’s poolside behavior hasn’t done much to quiet his reputation as an overly aggressive hothead, either.
And then there’s this, following the Grand Prix competition in April:
After the backstroke, Hosszu avoided making eye contact with Tusup, who upbraided her while swimmers from other teams stared. Tusup continued his critique in the warm-down area, where two people said they overheard him suggesting to Hosszu that she stay in the water and drown. The night ended with Tusup kissing Hosszu on the forehead and pulling her close in a long embrace on the deck.
Tusup became Hosszu’s coach at a crucial, delicate moment in her life: Feeling crushed by multiple defeats at the 2012 Olympics in London, Hosszu returned to her previous training spot at USC, emerging with a new competitive strategy, and with Tusup as her new trainer. As the Times put it, “she buried her old self and hatched the competitor who became known as the Iron Lady.”
It’s true that Tusup is tied closely to Hosszu’s success—not only as her coach, but as her main pillar of emotional support. It is not true, as the NBC commentator put it, that he is responsible for her stunning performance in the water on Saturday night. Hosszu alone achieved her victory, and it’s dangerous to perpetuate the idea—in her head, and in the heads of others—that he is essential to her ability to win. As Tusup himself told the Times:
“I always say if you find a coach who can make you a step or two better, or if what we’re doing is not working and you think there’s something you need to change, you need to tell me because then I’ll step back, that coach will step in, and we’ll be happy,” Tusup said, adding, “She has that offer to this day.”
The Times writes that Hosszu “buried her old self,” as if to imply that she didn’t possess the makings of greatness all along. Tusup may have helped her shine, but if Hosszu does eventually decide that his tactics aren’t working for her, I hope she remembers that there was only one person, one Iron Lady, in the pool when that record was set, and that she can do it again—with or without him.