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The couple that turns heads at the Olympic pool

The couple that turns heads at the Olympic pool


KAREN CROUSE
NYT Syndicate
In the fall of 2012, Shane Tusup was asked to become more involved in Katinka Hosszu's swimming career. That request came from his girlfriend, Katinka Hosszu, who suggested that he coach her. Deep down, he said, he knew it could work, but he also knew that someday they might come to regret it.
With no blueprint to follow, they married and forged a professional coupling that has produced six world championship medals, including four golds; two female swimmer of the year awards; and a world record. Along the way, their relationship has become a cause c`l'e8bre on the pool deck.
Many sports, most prominently tennis, have featured contentious relationships between coaches and athletes. Those typically involved fathers overseeing the careers of their children. Less often is the volatile coach the athlete's husband.
Jessica Hardy, an Olympic medalist who used to train with Hosszu in Los Angeles and wrote about being subjected to verbal and emotional abuse as a child, said,"I've seen a lot of inappropriate and not-OK behaviour in Shane."
She added:"I've seen coaches exhibit that kind of behaviour in training, but this is another level. It's scary."
Hosszu and Tusup acknowledge that their arrangement is complicated but insist it is not unhealthy. They say they are able to separate their relationship as athlete and coach from that of wife and husband.
Hosszu, 27, is participating in five individual events at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, more than Michael Phelps. She is competing in her fourth Olympics, the same as Ryan Lochte. She is ranked No 1 this year in two Olympic events, as many as Katie Ledecky.
Unlike Phelps, Lochte or Ledecky, Hosszu has never won an Olympic medal. Four years ago, the pressure to produce her first podium finish for her native Hungary, whose obsession with water crests every Olympic summer, crushed Hosszu. She finished fourth in the 400-metre individual medley, the event she had expected to win, as well as eighth in the 200-metre individual medley and ninth in the 200-metre butterfly.
"In London, I was so scared of what's going to happen if I lose," Hosszu said."It was awful, really. I just felt like: 'This is my time; I need to show it. It's now or never.' I put this pressure on myself."
When the diffident Hosszu dons her swimsuit and stuffs her schoolteacher's hair bun into a latex racing cap, she turns into a superhero with reserves of stamina and confidence. The swimmer who felt overwhelmed by the pressure to succeed in London has since become the first athlete to surpass $1 million in World Cup series prize money for individual races and overall finishes and averaged more than 100 races a year.
She has accomplished all this with her husband overseeing all the aspects of her preparation, to the unease of some in the tightknit swimming community. Tusup is more temperamental than Hosszu, and his eruptions on the pool deck have elicited stares, complaints and calls for his removal.
"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."
Adopting a faster stroke tempo, Hosszu has dropped her backstroke times significantly. In 2012, she was not among the top-ranked swimmers in the 100 or the 200. Four years later, she is an Olympic medal contender in both events.
Hosszu won her second gold medal of the 2016 Olympic Games, after winning zero medals in her prior three appearances. She clocked 58.45 seconds.
"Shane helped me find my technique," Hosszu said, adding:"He told me I'm really so good at backstroke. At the time I didn't think it."
When Hosszu and Tusup married in 2013, it was as if their strengths became one.
Hosszu had a herculean work ethic but no grandiose goals. Tusup is a big thinker who has schooled Hosszu in the ABC's of the American dream: Ambition, Branding, Confidence.
Dorina Szekeres, a 2012 Hungarian Olympian who is employed by the couple's management agency, sat in the bleachers watching Hosszu train in Budapest as Tusup paced up and down the pool deck, observing her strokes and offering refinements in her technique. Szekeres, who swam at Indiana University, said swimmers from the United States had a different mindset from the Hungarians: The Americans are encouraged to chase rainbows while in Hungary, where expectations are carefully managed, dreams are contained to black and white.
"We have the drive, but we didn't have the confidence," Szekeres said.
Dave Salo, who coached Hosszu at USC until shortly after the 2012 Olympics, said she was one of the hardest workers he had ever seen. The exception was in the weight room, where he described her as soft. Since she started working with her husband, that has changed.
Tusup was the catalyst. He saw Hosszu as the Iron Lady before she did.
"She was insecure about the nickname," Tusup said."She was saying: 'Am I really the Iron Lady? Am I really going to be able to live up to that image?'"
If Hosszu entertained doubt, Tusup envisioned dollar signs. There is money to be made for professional swimmers in the World Cup series of meets in Europe and Asia and the Grand Prix series in the United States. The events offer cash prizes for the top three finishers in each event and bonuses, totalling more than $100,000, to the top finishers overall. Tusup saw an opportunity for them to travel the world, as they desired, while maximising Hosszu's earning potential.
She has demonstrated that it is possible to race one's way to fitness rather than train months on end between meets. Salo said he was happy to see"a leaner and meaner" Hosszu swimming"the way people always thought she was capable."
Still, he worries.
"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?"
In Arizona in April, at a Grand Prix meet held by her swimwear sponsor, Arena, Hosszu had a rare bad day at the office, finishing fifth in the 200 individual medley and the 200 backstroke.
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 defended his behaviour, saying he was not a bully.
"That's what it appears a lot of times," he said."I get a bad rep in the US because these parents in the stands, they're going, 'He's such a jerk; he yells at her when she doesn't swim fast.' No, the hard part of swimming is that there's a lot of times you just settle for OK, and we agreed that the goal was never to settle for OK, that we're going to keep pushing, even if we don't get it, to be great, to be amazing, to be legendary."
Hosszu said that if she did not win a gold medal, she would be fine.
"Shane is always reminding me, 'You lost the one that you thought you could not survive without, and you're thriving,'" Hosszu said, referring to the 400 individual medley in London."Why would you ever worry about anything?"

At the ongoing Rio games, Hosszu swum to three gold medals in the Women's 100m backstroke, Women's 400m individual medley and Women's 200m individual medley. In the 200m medley, she set a new Olympic record clocking 2:06.58 minutes.

(Cover photo: Shane Tusup high-fives with his wife, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu, after a race at the Duel in the Pool event in Indianapolis, December 11, 2015)