László Cseh (3 December, 1985) is a Hungarian butterfly, backstroke, and individual medley swimmer and is consistently ranked among the world’s leaders in his disciplines.
Cseh’s first taste of international success came as a 17-year-old at the 2002 European Short Course Championships in Riesa, where he won bronze in the 400m IM. It wasn’t long before he was back on the podium for this event at the highest level, coming second at Barcelona’s World Championships in 2003 (breaking the European record as he did so), and ending the year with a gold medal at the European SC Championships in Dublin.
In 2004 he won his first European titles in Madrid in the 400m IM and 100m backstroke, before disappointingly breaking a bone in his foot just weeks before the Athens Olympics. Despite this setback, he still went on to win a 400m IM bronze medal, and ended fourth in the 200m IM. Putting his back luck behind him, László ended the year on a high at the European SC Championships in Vienna, taking gold in the 400m IM in a new European record, placing second in the 200m IM, and picking up a bronze in the 100m backstroke.
2005 saw Cseh once again step up a notch, winning his first 400m IM world title at the Melbourne World Championships, where he also took silver in the 200m IM and bronze in the 100m backstroke. He capped an incredible year by sweeping the 100m backstroke, 200m IM, and 400m IM events at the European SC Championships in Trieste, breaking the 200m and 400m IM SC world records in the process. As a result of his exploits, he was named Swimming World Magazine’s European Swimmer of the Year.
Medals continued to roll in during 2006, when he successfully defended his European 400m IM title, won his first 200m IM, and earned a silver medal in 100m backstroke at the European Championships in front of his home crowd in Budapest. At December’s European SC Championships in Helsinki, he also won his first 200m IM European SC title, and took home silver in the 400m IM and 200m butterfly. His continuing success saw him named European Swimmer of the Year for the second year in succession, as well as collecting his first Hungarian Sportsman of the Year award.
A disappointing year by László’s standards followed in 2007, when he failed to defend his 400m IM world title at Melbourne’s World Championships (he finished fifth), his only medal being a 200m IM bronze. However, he enjoyed some redemption with another sweep at the European SC Championships in Debrecen – this time in 200m IM, 400m IM, and 200m butterfly – where he also reclaimed his 200m IM SC world record and broke his own 400m IM SC world record.
Cseh enjoyed a hugely successful year in 2008, despite the limelight enjoyed by Michael Phelps. He won his third consecutive European 400m IM title in Eindhoven – breaking the European record in the process – and also picked up his second 200m IM title. At the Beijing Olympics, he won silver medals in the 200m and 400m IM events, as well as the 200m butterfly, and was kept from the gold in each event only by the herculean efforts of one Michael Phelps.
With much anticipation for the 2009 World Championships, Cseh suffered another setback as he was hospitalized with a stomach virus on his arrival in Rome. After having to scratch from his first event, he gamely picked up in the 200m and 400m IM events, picking up silver and bronze medals respectively. He ended the year by winning his fifth 400m IM European SC title in Istanbul, breaking his own world record for the second time. 2010 saw him successfully defend his European 200m and 400m IM titles in his home town, confirming his European dominance by notching up his third and fourth consecutive titles respectively, and taking his overall total up to 10.
Cseh has a disappointing 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, despite going into the meet as the year’s fastest 400m IM and third-fastest 200m IM swimmer. While picking up a bronze medal in the 200m IM, he failed to make the finals in his other three events (400m IM, 100m and 200m fly).
2012’s preparations for the London Olympics went well for Cseh, as he walked away from the European Championships in Debrecen with six medals – three individual golds (200m and 400m IM, 200m fly) and one silver (100m fly), and two relay bronzes. His 200m IM effort set a new championship record (1:56.66) and marked his fourth successive European title, while his 400m IM victory represented his fifth title on the trot. While the Olympics did not produce the same impressive results for him, Cseh won the 200m IM bronze medal, but failed to make the finals in 200m fly and 400m IM. In the 4x100m medley relay, the Hungarian team broke their national record twice, with Cseh twice setting new national marks for his opening 100m backstroke leg.
In the world of Hungarian swimming, there was Krisztina Egerszegi. Five-time Olympic champion, she held the world 200m backstroke record for almost 17 years, and remains a living legend in her country. Now there is László Cseh. He may not yet have her Olympic pedigree, but he certainly enjoys celebrated status at home, with one world title, eleven European titles, five SC world records, and five Olympic medals, including those three silvers from Beijing.
His 2008 Olympic memories might well be golden had it not been for one Michael Phelps, but they are still memories that will live with him forever. It’s an experience that he looks back on proudly, even if a fickle world doesn’t recognize or remember those who come second, and this is perhaps the best single expression of László Cseh’s essence. He sees every experience – the good and the bad – as opportunities to improve. And he’s driven by success. His relaxed demeanour may belie the determination that resides beneath, not to mention the aggression – in Beijing he listened to heavy metal through his earphones in the final moments before the race, ironically by a band called Drowning Pool.
László was introduced to the pool by his namesake father, who swam in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics, and was the first Hungarian to break the one-minute barrier in 100m backstroke. These days he’s driven by coach György Turi, who’s a dictator when he’s in the pool, and a friend out of it. As he gets older, he and Turi discuss training and tactics more often than when he was younger, and it’s a measure of how he’s matured that he recognizes the need to talk about things. And while swimming is obviously his life right now, he maintains a healthy balanced view on life. He views his computer science studies as a necessary balance to feed the mind while he pushes his body, even if he isn’t sure how he might put his studies’ knowledge to work in the long run. When he isn’t training or studying, he fishes to relax, and takes photographs to express his creative side.
Live for now, but prepare for the future, even if you don’t know what it might bring. Seems like a rather healthy philosophy for a twenty-something-year-old to have.