The three time Olympic gold medal winner and FINA Swimmer of the Year Katinka Hosszu has led a revolution in the pool and was the first in history to hold 5 individual medley world records concurrently. 2019 promises to be one of the biggest years for the 30-year old Hungarian athlete and swimming in general. Following years of discussions and set-backs, FINA has announced that the inaugural International Swimming League (ISL) is due to take place this October, sandwiched between this summer's World Championships and next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Katinka expresses her delight at this development, saying "we have been fighting for this kind of change for some years and now we are in the middle of a revolution in our sport". The ISL will contain eight teams (four European, four American), with events held on both sides of the Atlantic, allowing around one hundred swimmers to participate in the debut season. Katinka will even have the chance to perform in front of a home crowd as one of the legs is to be staged in Budapest. "It will be totally different from the competitions we have seen until now. A real show will be organized and offered for the spectators with the swimmers. It is a huge honour for me to be an ambassador of this special innovative league that will takes its place in the history of swimming".
Swimming continues to remain one of the few sports that is naturally predisposed towards gender equality in its audience and sponsorship, as Katinka recognises: "We, swimmers are fortunate, since in our sport men and women enter the same competition, they are at the same venue with the same conditions, the same number of spectators. Team sports such as football, basketball or handball are in a more difficult situation. The women's teams, leagues and competitions have less exposure, lower number of spectators, therefore less marketing value. In some cases, even the regulations, size of field or the ball is also different, and the main events are organized separately. I think we must work for these sports to get more awareness, more recognition, but we must take into account the market demand, too, and find the proper balance. Swimming is a measurable sport, and if you are the best, you are obviously recognised and appreciated by the male swimmers as well."
Katinka has also demonstrated that funding in swimming does not make a distinction between genders, breaking further records in 2014 when she became the first prize money millionaire in swimming history. "In swimming, results determine everything. Since female swimmers compete in the same number of events, there is no difference in support, prize money or even exposure." In business, however, Katinka sees things differently. "I perceive that business is still considered as being men’s field of play; women are hardly accepted even if they are smart enough or sometimes smarter and more prepared than businessmen. I once went to a business meeting where my partners were men. I spoke about my vision in depth, I was super prepared and after my presentation one of the partners told me: ‘I would rather take you dancing’. I was shocked. Can you imagine this story the other way around? So, there is still a lot to do in this area."
In what is a huge year for women's sport, Katinka recognises that there is general solidarity, support and a following amongst female athletes across different sports. This solidarity goes beyond just sport, however. "I think that there is solidarity among women in general, independently of whether they are athletes or not. Since our position in society is still not where it should be, we feel the same that a woman must perform more or achieve more to be appreciated or recognized. We can be sure that if a woman has really achieved something big, it means that she has probably worked more for it".
Such a focused attitude sheds light on the mind-set and mentality that has driven Katinka's staggering career to date and helped her earn the nickname "The Iron Lady". Katinka doesn't feel the burden of having to play up to this persona. "I am as strong as I seem to be, at least in the pool and now at business meetings. But outside of the pool I am Katinka as my friends, my family and probably the fans know me".
Having won her first World Championship medal at the age of just 20, Katinka's advice for young swimmers dreaming of following in her footsteps is unequivocal. "Be patient, because swimming is the kind of sport where results may come in time. You might work more and harder than in other sports, but if you love it, you will get the results through your work. Remember that hard work always pays off - not only in swimming, but in life, too." This is illustrated by her own record, as her first Olympic Gold medal followed at 27, in her fourth consecutive games.
Given the way her career has panned out thus far, there is no doubting that Katinka will continue to ride the wave of her success and cause quite the splash in her pursuit of assuming a place amongst swimming's pantheon of all-time greats.
Please click here to view other articles and interviews in our Summer of sport: women winning campaign.