Interview: Swimmer Katinka Hosszu On Upgrading Fourth Place To Olympic Gold

“Everyone before the final told me, 'you just have to think positively… ' I never thought about ‘what if it doesn’t happen.’”

​It's All in the Mind

Swimmer Katinka Hosszu attributes her gold medal world record breaking success in the 400m individual medley to the disappointment of a fourth placed disappointment at London 2012.

Any Olympian has earned their spot on their team through dedication and sacrifice. Just qualifying for the Olympic Games is an achievement.

There are many instances though when one of the favourites for a medal misses the podium altogether.

So how painful is it to finish in fourth place? Hosszu and rower Emma Twigg have shared their insight in an exclusive interview with the Olympic Channel.

Hosszu’s path to Olympic glory looks, on paper at least, to be a straightforward case of improvement after improvement.

The Hungarian made her Olympic debut at 2004 and built on that performance in 2008.

By the time London 2012 came around, she was ranked number one in the world.

She finished fourth in the 400-metre individual medley and went home without a medal.

“It was devastating because of all the expectations beforehand,” said Hosszu to the Olympic Channel Podcast.

“Going into (that) final, I was literally just thinking about the gold medal.

“Everyone before the final told me that you (just) have to think positively…

”I never thought about ‘what if it doesn’t happen’.”

Hosszu waves
Hosszu wavesHosszu waves

Katinka Hosszu’s Fourth Place At London 2012

It was around 300m into the final of the 400m individual medley when Hosszu felt her mentality change – for the worse.

“I was already basically feeling sorry for myself.”

She was in third position and was deeply unsatisfied with her performance.

“I wasn’t focusing on the race… I was just gliding to finish and when I took my goggles off, I thought I was third place.

“(Then) I checked the scoreboard and I saw I got fourth.”

The devastation changed Hosszu’s perspective four years later.

“In my race in Rio, you can see that I was (far) ahead of everyone.”

Hosszu broke the world record.

“I was thinking that I cannot be disappointed once I finish…

“(I wanted to make sure) I had nothing else left, (only) then would I be happy after the race.”

She won three Olympic gold medals in total plus one silver.

“It definitely have changed my mindset, so I learned a lot from that mistake.”

Twigg's Double Fourth

But what happens when you don’t convert a fourth place into a gold medal?

Rower Emma Twigg also finished fourth in 2012 – she missed out on the podium in the single sculls.

The Kiwi is proud to have represented her country at the Olympic Games but believes she was capable of bringing home a medal.

“Nobody remembers someone who comes fourth…

“I think it’s all about the expectations you put on yourself…

“And not really meeting my own expectations and goals.”

Emma Twigg Fourth Rio
Emma Twigg Fourth RioEmma Twigg Fourth Rio

There was a chance at the Olympic Games in 2016 to put the disappointment behind her.

“Rio certainly didn’t work out the way I intended.”

She finished fourth for a second time.

“When I crossed the finish line there – my first reaction was ‘Never again. You are done. You can’t have this feeling again.’

“Fourth is a cruel, cruel place to end up twice.”

Expectations Versus Perspective

Twigg is making a run at Tokyo 2020 and, although she is clearly aiming for a gold medal, she’s also changed her perspective.

“(At) the Olympics, everything has to be right on that day. And they haven’t been to date.

“So I am hoping that I get a chance to redeem myself again – all going well at Tokyo.

“You definitely have to have balance. And the more that you stew and you focus on a result – the less likely you are to get it.”

Twigg has completed a masters degree, started doing charity work and making school visits.

“Olympians are special people regardless of the result. There’s a lot that we can give back to our communities.”

Tokyo would be Twigg’s fourth Olympic Games.

There’s a chance that she could finish fourth for a third consecutive time.

And Twigg has already given that some thought.

“I think, if that were to happen, my perspective has changed.

“I am very proud of what I have achieved and if I can inspire people I the next couple of years then fourth place is worth it.”

Advice from a Champion

Hosszu’s guidance for an Olympian who hasn’t managed to stand on the podium yet is simple: never give up.

But also embrace your disappointment.

“Take a little bit of time to feel sorry for yourself.

“You have to just cry and say ‘Oh my, poor me. Everything is against me and I didn’t do it’.

“But after that, don’t take too long because four years is actually not as long as it sometimes (may seem).”

Ultimately, ‘the Iron Lady’ says she has grown as a person because of her earlier setbacks.

“I appreciated the gold medal way more in Rio than I would have in London, for sure.

“And I have become a better athlete.”

_Katinka Hosszu and Emma Twigg were this week’s big interviews on the Olympic Channel Podcast. Each Wednesday we find for you the very best Olympians and we ask them to go in deep about the biggest Olympic talking points. We want you to think just like an Olympian.
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