Dániel Gyurta (4 May, 1989) is a Hungarian breaststroke swimmer and is one of the leading medal challengers at major international competitions, particularly in the 200m event.
Gyurta first burst on to the international scene as a 15-year-old when he won a silver medal in the 200m breaststroke at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Still in his teens, he confirmed his early promise by following up with gold medals in the same event at the European Short Course Championships in 2006 (Helsinki) and 2007 (Debrecen). In 2008 he returned to the Olympics, breaking the Olympic record in his 200m breaststroke heat, only to lose it the next day to Japanese rival Kosuke Kitajima, and then miss out on a medal in the finals.
If 2008 was somewhat disappointing from a medal point of view, 2009 was the opposite as Dániel found himself back on the podium in two of the year’s pre-eminent international events. First, at July’s World Championships in Rome, he stormed back from sixth place at the final turn to overtake the field and edge out American Eric Shanteau for the 200m breaststroke gold medal, breaking the European record in the process (2:07.64). Then in December, in contrast to his race in Rome, he led from start to finish at Istanbul’s European Short Course Championships, breaking the world record for the 200m breaststroke (SC) by more than a second (2:00.67). He also won silver in the 100m breaststroke.
In 2010 he continued to produce impressive results, with a gold in the 100m breaststroke and a bronze in the 200m event at Monaco’s Mare Nostrum meet in June. In August Gyurta won his first European Championship (LC) title in his favourite event (200m breaststroke), breaking the championship record in front of his home crowd in Budapest (2:08.95). At the year-end’s World Short Course Championships in Dubai, he broke the 200m breaststroke championship record in his heat, and bettered it in the final, despite losing out on the gold to Naoya Tomita.
2011 proved to be another stellar year for Gyurta. At July’s World Championships in Shanghai, he produced a herculean surge on the final lap to overtake his great rival Kosuke Kitajima and win the men’s 200m breaststroke gold, becoming the first man since 1975 to successfully defend a 200m breast title. He ended off the year in fine style, winning the European Short Course 200m breaststroke title in Szczecin, Poland, posting the fastest-ever textile time in the event (2:02.37), and the third fastest of all time (SC).
2012 started off well for Gyurta as he retained his European 200m breaststroke title in a championship record time (2:08.60) in front of his home crowd in Debrecen, and also picked up a bronze medal in the 4x100m medley relay. And then came London, where on July 29th, Gyurta succeeded beyond his wildest dreams by not only winning the Olympic 200m breaststroke gold medal, but doing so in a stunning new world record time (2:07.28). After the race, he offered a replica of his Olympic medal to the parents of his former rival Alexander Dale Oen in tribute to him, a gesture much appreciated by Dale Oen's family. (The Norwegian 100m breaststroke world champion died tragically 3 months before the Olympics.) He narrowly missed out on a medal in the 100m breaststroke, but nonetheless still broke the Hungarian national record with a time of 59.53, a personal best. As part of the Hungarian 4x100m medley relay team, he helped set new national records in both the heat and the final, despite missing out on a medal.
Gyurta ended the year off in style by winning the 200m breaststroke at the World SC Championships in Istanbul in a championship record time of 2:01.35.
As he enters 2013 with the Olympic, European, and World LC and SC titles in his cabinet back home, Gyurta can justifiably claim to be the world’s pre-eminent 200m breaststroker.
There are several words one could use to describe Dani Gyurta – driven, determined, diligent – but perhaps best of all would be “focused”.
He started swimming at the age of four, and won his very first competitive race at the age of eight. As a youngster, he trained in the same pool as Olympic champions, and met three-time Olympian and 200m breaststroke champion at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Norbert Rózsa, which inspired him to work harder on his breaststroke. His idol is Hungarian Tamás Darnyi, one of the greatest medley athletes in swimming history. Brother Gergely is also a fellow Olympian, having competed in London in the 1500m freestyle.
In short, Dani’s current existence revolves around swimming, as he confirms when asked what he would be doing if he wasn’t a swimmer, or what he will do after he retires from the sport: “I haven’t thought about it, swimming is the sole focus of my life.”
Even though he is known for starting slowly and finishing strongly, Dani’s determination was perhaps nowhere more evident than in his 2011 world title swim in Shanghai, when he turned for the final 50m half a second behind Japanese breaststroke champion Kosuke Kitajima to overhaul him and win with 0.22s to spare. His reaction after his victory was typically measured: “I tried to stay close to Kitajima as best I could because I know that there’s no other way to catch him. My strategy was to beat him in the last few metres. I know he’s really strong, but nobody is unbeatable and I was in really good shape to do it!”
While Dani is a man of few words, being the strong, silent type, he showed another side when he attended the annual Norwegian Sport Awards Gala on January 12th, 2013. Shocked and saddened by the sudden death of Norwegian breaststroke rival and friend Alexander Dale Oen in April, 2012, in London he promised the Dale Oen family a replica of his Olympic medal to honour his friend. The audience of some 4,000 was particularly impressed as he made his award speech in Norwegian. “With Alex’s death, Norway didn’t only lose a great swimmer and athlete but a fantastic human being,” said Dani. “I talked a lot with Alex, we often watched final sessions together and we liked each other a lot.” For his generous gesture, he will be awarded a World Fair Play Diploma in September, 2013, by the International Fair Play Committee.
Other awards in his cabinet at home include the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic (2004), the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic (2010), and the Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit (2012). He has also been Hungarian swimmer of the year four times (2004, 2009, 2011, 2012), and Hungarian Sportsman of the Year twice (2009, 2012).
While he is currently firmly focused on his swimming career, Dani is also a business management student at the Budapest College of Communication and Business, and whenever he has time, he indulges in another of his passions – cars. He particularly enjoys the movies of Al Pacino, but for his choice of music, he doesn’t have any favourites, listening to whatever his mood dictates.