Hubby forged Hosszu's reputation as Iron Lady

Katinka Hosszu modelling her own Iron Lady swimsuit collection. The Hungarian has also earned more than US$1 million (S$1.43 million) from her World Cup wins.
Katinka Hosszu modelling her own Iron Lady swimsuit collection. The Hungarian has also earned more than US$1 million (S$1.43 million) from her World Cup wins.PHOTO: REUTERS
Katinka Hosszu, with husband Shane Tusup, has made a big splash on the swimming scene after he played coach and mentor.
Katinka Hosszu, with husband Shane Tusup, has made a big splash on the swimming scene after he played coach and mentor.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

For a woman who would later be known as the Iron Lady for her phenomenal endurance, Katinka Hosszu's London Olympics was ironically characterised by a lack of willpower.

Then 23, the Hungarian swim star finished fourth in the 400m individual medley, just 0.58sec off China's Li Xuanxu in third.

But what hurt most was not missing out on her first Olympic medal but that she gave up with 50m left, after seeing eventual winner Ye Shiwen of China and runner-up Elizabeth Beisel of the United States power ahead in the final lap.

For the third straight Olympics, the medley specialist returned home with nothing.

Shattered, Hosszu moped for weeks in her room with blinds drawn and door locked.

"I definitely had some confidence issues," she revealed.

It was in this dark period, however, that she found hope in someone who would not give up on her - then-boyfriend and current husband Shane Tusup.

"I basically put her in front of a mirror and said: 'You have to look at yourself. Yes, you screwed up but you're still alive, still young, you can still try again,' " Tusup recalled.

It stung Hosszu into action while Tusup, 27, an established college swimmer himself, made a bold move to quit graduate school and start coaching his then-girlfriend.

While it is not unheard of to see athletes dating their coaches, the outcomes are wildly unpredictable.

American track star Jackie Joyner-Kersee often credits husband Bob for her success while two-time tennis Grand Slam winner Li Na made it a ritual to tease husband-coach Jiang Shan in her post-match interviews.

But Marion Jones saw her career and reputation ruined when former husband C.J. Hunter reportedly injected her with performance-enhancing drugs.

The stakes are high. As Tusup noted: "She's my wife. It's her career, not a nameless organisation. I have to be perfect on the first try."

They made one thing clear: Hosszu would sound off the minute she felt the partnership was not working. Three years on, the relationship continues to bear fruit.

A collective decision to focus on the Fina World Cup circuit proved a masterstroke as Hosszu's versatility saw her win the overall women's title every year since 2012.

The sheer workload - eight events per World Cup leg were par for the course - built up her endurance while the short-course pools sharpened her turns.

After a year of training under Tusup, Hosszu won the 200m and 400m IM titles at the 2013 Fina World Championships.

They tied the knot later that year.

She retained both her world titles this year, and added a world record in the 200m IM - a feat which left the couple in joyous tears.

"It was a very special moment for us because he is my husband and he exactly knows what I have to go through to get it," Hosszu said.

"I would be lying if I said it was easy or that we don't argue and don't fight. We fight all the time but we try to make these fights constructive and get out better."

Out of the pool, the prize money supported their touring as Hosszu collected more than US$1 million (S$1.43 million) from her World Cup wins - unheard of in a sport lagging far behind the riches of professional tennis and golf.

The duo started their own sports agency, released a book and even launched a swimwear collection.

Tusup acts as the public relations guy and manager. He wears an Iron Lady cap or T-shirt, and has an Iron Lady tattoo on his left bicep, one which took five hours to ink.

Five is also the number of attempts it took before Tusup got her to agree to their first date in 2008 - when they were studying at the University of Southern California.

"First two times she claimed she didn't understand me. Then she said she had a boyfriend in Hungary," the American laughed. "We just feel good together. We balance each other out very well. It sounds corny, but she's my better half."

And so he is also hers, in his own way, a Man of Steel behind the Iron Lady.

Chua Siang Yee

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 04, 2015, with the headline 'Hubby forged Hosszu's reputation as Iron Lady'. Print Edition | Subscribe