Hungarian swimmer Krisztina Egerszegi is the youngest to ever win a gold medal in the Olympic Games. She won this medal at the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, South Korea, in the 200 meter backstroke. Egerszegi won the gold in the same event in two subsequent Olympics, marking only the second time an athlete won golds in three consecutive games in the same event. She is also the only woman to win five gold medals in individual swimming events. Egerszegi was an expert in the backstroke, dominating women's events from the late 1980s through the mid-1990s.
Egerszegi was born August 16, 1974, in Budapest, Hungary. She began swimming at the age of four. Her first coach was Miklos Kiss, who taught children to swim, in addition to his primary occupation as an engineer at a factory. Kiss noticed early on that she had talent, especially in the backstroke. He brought her talent to the attention of Laszlo Kiss (no relation)—the head coach of the Budapest Swim Club and trainer of the Hungarian women's team—when she was five. Laszlo Kiss sent Egerszegi to another top notch coach, Gyorgy Thury, to be trained when she was six.
In 1986, Laszlo Kiss himself began training Egerszegi. Though she was taught in all four swimming strokes (freestyle, breast, butterfly, and backstroke), she had the ideal physique for the backstroke. Laszlo Kiss refined her abundant natural ability and already solid technique. Egerszegi proved easy to train, and appreciated his tutelage.
Won First Olympic Golds
Egerszegi broke out in international competition at the Summer Olympics in Seoul in 1988. She was only fourteen years old and weighed ninety-nine pounds, forty-four pounds less than the next smallest competitor. Despite her youth and small stature, Egerszegi won a gold in the 200 meter backstroke—setting an Olympic record in the process—and a silver in the 100 meter
backstroke. She lost the gold in the 100 meter race by less than a second.
In 1991, Egerszegi continued to show her prowess in the backstroke. She set world records in two events at the European and World Championships. At the worlds, she won gold medals in the 200 meter backstroke and the 100 meter backstroke, setting the world record in the 200 meter backstroke. At the European Championships, Egerszegi set the world record with a time of 1:00.31 in the 100 meter backstroke, winning gold in this race. She also won gold in the 200 meter backstroke and 400 meter individual medley at that competition. The value of her training showed through at the European Championships. Craig Lord of the Times wrote "Egerszegi's ability to endure the pain of hard training was said by [Laszlo] Kiss to be one of the key reasons why she was so far ahead of her rivals."
Queen of the Olympics
Egerszegi was still powerful swimming force at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, as a veteran eighteen-year-old. By this time, she was a star in Hungary, and was dubbed the "Queen" of these Olympics. She was the only female athlete to win three individual events at these games. She won one gold medal in the 400 meter individual medley, though she was not expected to, nor did think she would. Egerszegi's primary concern was the 200 meter backstroke, which she also won gold in as well as the 100 meter backstroke. She set Olympic records in both the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke.
The following year, Egerszegi continued to prove her dominance and improvement as a swimmer. At the European swimming championships, she won four gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter backstroke, 400 meter individual medley, and 200 meter butterfly. Her win in the butterfly marked the first time she won the event in a major competition. By this time, Egerszegi had good backing from sponsors in Switzerland and was considered the most multitalented swimmer in the world.
In 1994 and 1995, Egerszegi did not do as well at the World and European Championships as she had in recent years. At the 1994 World Championships, she only medaled in the 200 meter backstroke, and it was a silver. Egerszegi had actually planned on retiring after this competition, but because of the loss to China's He Cihong, she decided to continue training. However she chose to stop competing in the 100 meter backstroke at this time, in part because she believed that her technique helped her win over younger swimmers and this worked best in the longer races. At the European Championships in 1995, she won gold in the 200 meter backstroke and 400 meter individual medley.
Egerszegi competed at her third Summer Olympics at the 1996 games in Atlanta, Georgia. She again won in the 200 meter backstroke. She also won a bronze in the 400 meter individual medley. Though she did not enter the 100 meter backstroke competition, her backstroke time in the individual medley—which was 100 meters in length—would have won the gold in the event. Egerszegi's gold in the 200 meter backstroke was her fifth gold medal, the most won by an individual swimmer.
|1974||Born on August 16 in Budapest, Hungary|
|c. 1978||Begins swimming|
|c. 1986||Begins being coached by Laszlo Kiss|
|1988, 1992, 1996||Wins gold medals at the Summer Olympic Games|
|1996||Retires as a competitive swimmer|
Awards and Accomplishments
|1988||Gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke (set Olympic record) and silver in the 100 meter backstroke at the Summer Olympics|
|1989||Silver medal in the 400 individual medley at the European Championships|
|1990||Named European Female Swimmer of the Year|
|1991||Gold medals in the 200 meter backstroke (setting world record) and 100 meter backstroke at the World Championships; gold medals in the 100 meter backstroke (breaking world's record), 200 meter backstroke and 400 meter individual medley at the European Championships; named world female swimmer of the year by Swimming World ; named European Swimmer of the Year|
|1992||Won gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke (set Olympic record), 100 meter backstroke (set Olympic record), and 400 meter individual medley at the Summer Olympic Games; named European Swimmer of the Year; named European Sportswoman of the Year|
|1993||Gold medal in the 100 meter and 200 meter backstroke, 200 meter butterfly, and 400 meter individual medley at the European Championships|
|1994||Silver medal in the 200 meter backstroke at the World Championships|
|1995||Gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke and 400 individual medley at the European Championship|
|1996||Gold medal in the 200 meter backstroke and bronze in the 400 meter individual medley at the Summer Games|
|2001||Named Female Athlete of the Century by the Hungarian Olympic Committee|
Retired from Swimming
Immediately after the 1996 Olympics, the swimmer nicknamed "Mouse" (because the first four letters of her last name translates to the word in Hungarian) retired from competition. She planned on training progressively down in order to not shock her body. Referring to her win in the 200 meter backstroke at the Summer Games, she told Julian Linden of United Press International, "I love all my medals, but I think this one is the best. I'm not going to swim at the next world championships; I'm just going to swim for fun now."
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Sketch by A. Petruso