Hungarian swimmer Laszlo Cseh might be known as the best male swimmer we’ve ever seen – if he hadn’t run head-on into the best male swimmer we’ve ever seen (Michael Phelps) and another who on the basis of accomplishments has a strong case for top 3 (Ryan Lochte) – both of whom are about the same age as the 32-year old Cseh.
In spite of the battles he faced throughout his career against his two American counterparts, Cseh has amassed an incredible resume of international success. He has 6 Olympic medals (albeit none of them gold), 13 World Championships in long course, and an incredible 48 European Championship medals (33 of which were titles). His 19 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze record at the European Short Course Championships is the best-ever among male swimmers, just 3 behind Martina Moravcova for 1st among all swimmers in the event’s history.
At last week’s European Short Course Championships in Copenhagen, Denmark, however, Cseh began to show the signs of age that inevitably catch up to all athletes, and, dare I say, all humans.
Cseh didn’t earn any medals at the European Short Course Championships, marking just the 2nd time in his 15-year international career that he finished without a place on a podium. He’s only raced at Short Course Worlds twice, in 2010 and 2012, and has 2 silvers and 2 bronze medals to show for it.He’s finished among the medalists at all 4 of the Olympic games that he’s attended.
The same is true for all 8 long course World Championships he’s been at, including silver in the 200 fly in Budapest this summer, starting with a silver in the 400 IM behind Michael Phelps at the 2003 Championships in Barcelona.
Cseh has won medals at each of the last 7 European Championship meets in long course (in fact, he’s won a gold medal at each of the last 7), and until this year, had medaled 9 of the 10 European Short Course Championships in which he’d raced dating back to 2003 (he also missed in 2013).
It wasn’t all bad news for Cseh in Copenhagen, though. He still swam a best time and broke a National Record in the 50 fly at the meet, swimming a 22.88 in the semi-final.
The Hungarian great isn’t done yet – his silver at Worlds showed that he’s still a contender for international podiums – but he’s always been primarily a long course swimmer. He probably can’t go full-bore for meets twice a year anymore, having to instead save his focus for the one big one. At 32, he has maybe lost the youth to combine with overwhelming talent on the European stage to muscle his way on to a podium in short course meters.
The sun has not yet set on Cseh, but it could be the waning hours of the brilliant evening. The question becomes can Cseh hang on long enough to make a run in 2019 in South Korea at the World Championships, or a year later at the Tokyo Olympics – or will next year’s relatively less-emphatic European Championships be the end of his era?