The 2020 Hungarian National Championships were slated to begin last week on March, 24th. But, as with equivalent Olympic-qualifying meets everywhere, were canceled due to the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Per our report yesterday, the Hungarian Swimming Federation has suspended training for Hungarian swimmers who have been abroad after 9 National Team members tested positive for COVID-19.
We now know that the Olympic Games themselves have been pushed to July 2021, giving athletes another year to prepare once they’ve come to terms with how quickly things have changed both in and out of the pool.
Before we turn towards the Olympic future, let’s first take stock of the present by reviewing the biggest storylines we had anticipated coming out of medal-contending nations had their trials taken place as scheduled. Here’s what we were looking forward to in Hungary.
We’re used to seeing multi-Olympic gold medalist Katinka Hosszu take on monster schedules throughout her career, but the 30-year-old ‘backed off’ the backstroke events a tad in 2019.
At the FINA World Aquatic Championships in Gwangju, Hosszu wound up dropping the 100m back sprint, while she opted out of the backstroke discipline entirely at the 2019 European Short Course Championships.
But, the Hungarian Iron Lady returned to the events at the Hungarian Short Course Championships in December, putting up a 100m back mark of 58.14 and a 200m back time of 2:03.55 before taking on both yet again on the FINA Champions Series. Her season-best outings heading into March included a 2:09.95 2back and 1:01.24 1back from Beijing.
Hosszu is the reigning 200m IM and 400m IM world champion from Gwangju and she also raced the 200m free where she placed 17th.
Although we most likely would have seen Hosszu take on all of these events, and possibly more, at Hungarian Nationals, the real question will be what she ultimately decides to race in Tokyo.
Cseh’s Career Ending Yet to be Written
At 34 years of age, Laszlo Cseh is one of Hungary’s most recognizable Olympians. For about a decade Cseh was famously the ‘third wheel’ to Americans Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte’s IM battles, but was a fierce hardware hunter in his own right. He’s claimed 6 medals across 4 Olympic Games, including as a member of the incredible 3-person tie in the men’s 100m fly in Rio.
In light of the delay of the Olympic Games to 2021, Cseh said this week, he will ‘keep on keeping on’ in terms of eyeing another Olympic Games.
Cseh finished in 10th place in both the 100m fly and 200m IM events in Gwangju, hitting respective times of 51.86 and 1:58.17. The former event is an especially competitive one even within his home nation, with Kristof Milak and new Hungarian Szebasztian Szabo on the scene.
Milak owns a season-best of 50.95 from the semi-finals of the 2019 World Championships where he ultimately wound up 4th, while Szabo fired off a time of 51.28 last August. Cseh hasn’t been in the 51-low/50-high range since 2017, so he would have had a fight on his hands to snag an Olympic roster spot.
The 200m IM would have been a more comfortable proposition for Cseh, however, as his 1:57.79 time from Gwangju holds about a 2-second advantage over the next closest Hungarian Peter Bernek (1:59.58).
It’s hard to follow-up on a World Record but 20-year-old Kristof Milak is primed to do so. At a World Cup meet in October, Milak stated about his signature 200m fly event, “I think have 10 years [left in my career]. I think I could go under 1 minute 50.”
All eyes would have been on the young talent at the nixed Hungarian Nationals, but he also would have at least gotten wet for the 100m fly and potentially the 200m free, 400m free and even backstroke events.