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Dániel Gyurta: ‘I will be able to reach the same level as before!’

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Dániel Gyurta earned a bronze medal at the last FINA World Championships in Kazan - the Olympic and three-time World champion have been preparing with a new coach to get back to his best for the World Championships on home-soil coming this July. Dániel changed his training and coach following the unsuccessful Rio Olympics, he is now preparing with József Nagy. The practices are more and more intensive, the Olympic champion of London is pushing himself to earn the coach’s praise on his performance. Daniel is most probable to next compete at the Hungarian Nationals in April, with already visible signs of the changes of the training techniques.

An interview by Gergely Csurka.

When you came out from the pool, everything happened the same as before, you smiled. Whether ‘Dani’ wins or not, whether he is the first or not, the smile and intonation are always the same. Did you have a tiny feeling inside of you in Rio and right after that this did not happen according to plans or did you just say ‘let’s move forward’?

To be honest, the usual smile was on my face because I knew I did everything in order to be at my best. I didn’t feel any urge to be sad at that moment. When I won in London, I did my very best to triumph in order to worthily represent my country, my family, my coach and indeed everyone who helped me in the previous four years to concentrate only on the preparation and the training. There are plenty of reasons why I lost in Rio but at that very moment I did not realise deeply what did just happen.  Some days prior to the competition some were able to see that my swimming is not the same that was expected.’

After the race when you were alone with your rushing thoughts how did you make peace? You were representing the highest level, you won three consecutive World Championship titles and remained undefeated for years and then something happened in 2016…

I knew that the amount of knowledge, results and power were still in me. I was able to perform, I could make myself and everyone else proud. I can feel it now that I will be able to reach the same performance as before, even if it feels a bit out of space after the Rio Olympics. I knew that I have to say goodbye to my coaches, no matter how painful it was, I just had to say goodbye and start preparing for the World Championships in Budapest with a completely new approach. This is the reason we parted with my coach trio, Sándor Széles, Ferenc Kovácshegyi and Balázs Virth who were managing my career in the last 17 years and that is why I am continuing to work with József Nagy, who has just moved back to Hungary from Canada and worked previously in the United States for most years of his career. The new point of view and attitude push me out from the monotony which is not the unanimity of swimming but the weariness of the nearly two-decade-long hard work. My new coach brought some new power and blood to our routine – just what I really needed. The World Championships this summer will show the fruit of our work together…

Even outsiders observed a kind of diversion from your typical, pure preparation after the 2013-2014 season, when you raced at short course events, too. It was visible that something was just not right, did you also feel it already?

This started with the successes in 2009 when I won the World Championships in Rome. This event was followed by a long and efficient period where I won every race and competition I entered, except for one World Short Course Championships. As the World Championships in Kazan were approaching, I imposed high standards to myself to win the fourth World title in a row. I knew that everyone thought this historical result almost impossible, but I was only listening to myself. I was longing to win, to show the world what I am capable of during those two minutes of race. I over trained myself, Balázs Virth and I wanted to win so badly we lost our rational thinking during the preparations. Nonetheless, I was in very good shape. I felt worse after the 200m final in Kazan than in Rio because I was so sure of the 2:06 result. If we would not have failed in our training over the last one or two weeks, I could have swum a better time, this way I won the bronze with 2:08.1. I would not highlight 2014 as more difficult for me, but I would choose the months after Kazan when I wanted to do a comeback so badly. We thought it shall happen in Rio.

We were chasing ourselves, unable to fix the basic issues, making some changes in our intensity and rhythm. I missed the European Championships in London in order to focus on the training for the Olympic Games, I told myself that this one week extra is needed, too. Now all these seem bad ideas. The coaches and I - in that situation - had a share of time results to verify our techniques – and we believed we are doing everything right. This is sport after all. If there is just a slight problem in the buoyancy or technique, everything bursts. Being overweight by just 0,5 kg already creates a huge difference in buoyancy for example. There is only a short list of swimmers who can hold up their performance for long years. Such as Kitajima, Marco Koch or myself, we were able to keep up and deliver the same (or better) results. The Kazakh swimmer barely made it to the final, later the very same person won the competition. Breaststroke is unpredictable, there are many of us with the identical level of knowledge and experience.

This is a new chapter in your life. Half year has passed since you started working with József Nagy, how are the things different?

When we started working together the coach told me that we are nothing at this moment, we must work to be somewhere, anywhere, to that level we had both conquered before, him as a coach and me as an athlete. So, we started everything from the basics. He changed the training based on kilometres and endurance to a more technique-focused one, with less kilometres but higher intensity. Coach Nagy raises sets high expectations for me each day: I have to do something to make the extra seconds I ‘earned’ in 2016 go away. I have never been this tired before as now following the high intensity trainings. Sometimes it is unbelievably hard to keep up the work day by day and do the training as he wishes me to do so. He is strict and consistent but always kind. He watches my reactions closely to use every feedback as a requirement source for the next practice. I hope at the I can show some visible signs of the changes of the training techniques and our work of the last six months at the National Championships coming up in April. I am very sure that the difference in my swimming will be rather noticeable! Anyone who sees me lately swimming says the difference is like night and day. It will be just fine, I can feel it.

There is a restart in almost every year when you are swimming breaststroke. The technique will be rebuilt and small corrections take place even in the last minute that most people cannot recognise. However, you have your own technique that helped you reach the top. Is it possible to forget the old methods and learn something completely new?

‘It was really hard in the beginning, it required a constant and incredibly great attention from me to do the proper movements, arm, leg, head coordination and concentrate on my buoyancy in the water. I have to tell that my coach did not praise my performance yet but I am striving for it every day to have it until the World Championships. He praised his athletes perhaps only four times during his career. I would like to be the fifth one. It is hard, but I was proud when my coach said that my movement is almost like what he expects in the specific time of the year, in January’ – said Gyurta.

How much do you have to reduce your ego? You are a conscious, intelligent, yet somewhat stubborn man with a lot of experience. Suddenly, you became a young student, but you always have the option to politely answer back that for example you would like to swim less. We know that dictatorship is a must in swimming, whether it is tough or soft is the question.

I believe that our common goal does not leave space for questioning or conflicting inside or outside of the pool. I consider myself a good racer type, I always do what my coach says. However, just during the last period ahead of Kazan I felt that we should not have to train two weeks before the World Championships as intensely as we did. I asked my coach Balázs Virth and he told me to believe him, this is what we have to do. I should have said that it is simply too much. But I did everything because my coach asked me to. Now it is the same, even if I do not know clearly what is too much or too little. It is really hard to decide what is correct when you are tired and feel pain in the water. I have to defeat myself just like in the competition. I do not think I had to reduce any ego – we are working towards our common goals.

We have Dániel Gyurta, the experienced Hungarian swimmer and we have Ippei Watanabe, the young Japanese breaking the World Record (2:06.67) in January. He broke through the dream limit, going under 2:07.00 for the first time. Everybody was surprised that a swimmer can reach this time in February already, who knows what can happen in the summer… Let’s just say he set the bar high. Do you often think about that you will probably have to swim under 2:07.00 in the new Danube Arena to make it to the top?

We saw it many times from the Japanese that they are capable of achieving great result before world events. It was expected that he will reach this time. There are many of us who having time really close to 2:07.00. I used to be one of them, even if I was not able to go under 2:10.00 in the past year. The time that this young Japanese swam at the Rio Games already showed that he is capable of this incredible performance. He proved it, but I still do not think I should be afraid of the time. It was good to see that somebody can do it and it motivates all the breaststrokers around the world to train even harder. It is really difficult to win the Olympics or the World Championships in breaststroke with a WR, because it is totally different if you are the leader swimmer or six or seven swimmers are next to you and you have to watch every movement of them to win. Expectations are rather high towards everyone, we will see in July…