"With pain on your mind, you cannot win,"
says Kristóf Rasovszky who last year, at the age of 22, pretty much blew up the current status quo of the elite of open water swimming. He won three medals at the European Aquatic Championship in Glasgow: gold in the 5km (52:38,9) and 25km (4:57.53,5) Races and silver in the 10km (this latter race was so close that photo-finish had to be used because their recorded time was equal: 1:49:28,2). "That 5k was the best swim of my life", recalls Kristóf. "Everything came together: the opponents, the water, the weather, and I pretty much gave all I got." So much so that his achievement was not only the first for a Hungarian open water swimmer but he is the first open water swimmer ever who came away with a medal from all three distances in a European Championship.
"I had to make good decisions to achieve this. At the beginning of 2018, I made a lot of stinking decisions but in Glasgow, I was on the right track again." And we all know the weight of an instant decision of whom to take over in the water; when to take over; how strong and fast to start; how much energy to store for the final sprint; whether to start a private race with someone else - the list of possible (and many times necessary) decisions is pretty long regardless of the distance you swim.
One of those decisions is the overall strategy. Kristóf has a rather simple one: be first at the start and keep this position until the finish. This way he can not only control the race but he can avoid the sometimes unpleasant body contacts that can slow a swimmer down. And on this level, 10 seconds mean a lot even on 25k - the difference between him and the Russian swimmer on the second place was a bit over one (1) second. "Kicking and hitting happen usually when you swim in a group and especially at turns where it can be very crowded, so it's no wonder that you give some and get some", explains Kristóf. "You have to make a good decision on the spot, in a matter of seconds or less, and this brings you immediate results. This pressure drives and pumps me up all the time." Needless to say: in order to make good decisions, you have to practice a lot both during training and races.
"I swim twice a day, so I have a weekly average of 90-100k. Plus naturally, there's the dryland training, too." And going to university between trainings since Kristóf studies to be an electrical engineer but he doesn't plan too far ahead. During our talk, we don't even mention Tokyo since he has to qualify first which shouldn't be a problem. As a two-times European champion and European Open Water Swimming Cup champion he knows how to work hard to achieve a given goal. "I swim somewhere between 3500 and 4000k a year. I train in Balatonfûzfõ in the 50m pool, and when the weather permits I swim in Lake Balaton. My coach either stays on the shore or follows me in a kayak."
A thorough dietetic plan is an organic part of his preparation. This gives him the proper base of energy to finish the 25 k under 5 hours (4:57) but he never eats during the race. "I drink a bottle of isotonic drink whenever I can but that is all. This dietetic change really meant a lot. Now I pay attention to when to eat and what to eat but personally, I think you should eat everything you like." His favorite is pizza and quadruple hamburger but these are only appetizers after a long and hard race. "I eat everything there is. I eat pizza, hamburger, langosch and whatever else is on the table. I count no calories, there are no barriers and I take no prisoners."
Despite the thousands of kilometers - or maybe because of them - he loves swimming. "I cannot explain this to you. I love doing it because I'm alone in the water, I can escape life. And it is not true that it would be boring to swim 10 or 25k. You have to pay attention to many, many things and details while you want to reach and keep your spiritual balance. I find my rhythm, my very own rhythm and I swim best when I can keep this rhythm. It becomes interesting when this rhythm gets broken somehow. I get kicked, I meet a very cold current, I stray a bit to the right or to the left. When this happens, I have to react in an instant and not to try to find out why this happened. I have to react, make a decision and swim accordingly." Like most of the open water swimmers, Kristóf doesn't see the water as his opponent. Nor the pain that is an organic part of this sport. Everybody hurts on 25k, the only question is how one can handle it. "Pain is in my mind. At least my mind is where I decide how much attention to pay to the pain, how to ignore it, how to swim with it. I usually start to feel pain after 15k. I cannot swim the remaining 10k all the way thinking how much it hurts. I have 10k left. How much more pain is to come, how can I finish this? You can't ask that. Your body hurts. That's its job. With pain in your mind, you cannot win."
And it's not the water Kristóf wants to beat since this is the element he loves and spends countless hours in. "First and foremost I want to beat myself. Yes, there are the opponents but I'm the first one I have to beat." In Rio 2016 he couldn't beat himself. "That 1500m was the worst swim of my life. It was tragic. Everything went wrong. It was the tension, the tension of the race that got to me and filled my head completely."
That was when his decision to switch to open water became final. He'd been flirting with it and achieved very promising results. "Listen. It wasn't like when I was 10 years old that while everybody in my club wanted to be Michael Phelps, I dreamt of swimming countless kilometers in 18-degree water among waves and currents. This just happened, and I made the decision that open water is my element." This proved to be another in the series of good decisions since after the three medals at the EC and the Cup triumph, he was voted LEN Open Water Swimmer Of The Year in early 2019. He'll turn 23 in the year of the Tokyo Olympics - and the arc of an open water swimmer's career is much wider and longer than that of the pool swimmers'. "Listen, all I know is that I want to see myself in the water five years from now. And if I happen to stop once for good, my final swim will be the Balaton Crossing, across the lake. One long swim of 80k without getting out of the water, with a new record. By then I'll be older and crazier."
10-Quick-Questions for Kristóf
25 or 50 - 50
Favorite distance in the pool - 800 Meter Freestyle
Favorite style - Backstroke
River or lake - River, because it's easier to make mistakes and it's harder to win
Freshwater or saltwater - Freshwater
Cold or warm water - Cold
With or without neo - Without, I'm not much of a fan
With or without earplugs - Without
One cap or two - One
Longest swim - 25k
A highlightvideo of the recent FINA Marathon Swim World Series in Balatonfüred where Kristof managed to finish first:
Interview: Lyman Zerga
Pictures: Copyright by Kristóf Rasovszky
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