Hungary has produced quite a few champion swimmersover the years, but none have captured the public imagination as much as Olympic gold medallist Krisztina Egerszegi
The Big Splash
by László Török, 1996
Hailed as "Queen Krisztina" by the whole nation. Krisztina Egerszegi inspires unbelievable affection - perhaps because all of Hungary has watched its favourite swimmer develop from a skinny teenager into a pretty young woman over the past decade and become a four-time gold medallist at two Olympics.

I remember meetinh her for the first time at the 1987 Hungarian national championships. Her wins came as rather a surprise, and the 13-year-old backstroker was suddenly bathed in the national spotlight. With each result announcement she was presented with a medal and a bouquet of pink gladioli taller than she was. She had no idea how to respond to journalists, to their deluge of questionsbeyond a simple yes or no. And I hadn't a clue how to talk to an adolescent without boring her to death.

Since then we have talked innumerable times. Not formal interviews; we just chatted. What about? Everything. At the 1987 European championships, for instance, we talked about how foolish grown-ups were: she pointed out how, as an under-14-year-old, she was too young to participate in the youth division - so she went straight to the adult championship which has no age restriction at all. There - her first international event - she came fourth and fifth. No problem.

To this day one of our recurring topics is how she hates heading out to late autumn training sessions at dawn. It was unbearable, she says - dark, often pouring with rain - but every single day, her mother would accompany her down the dark starway to the door, and her trainer László Kiss ("Uncle Laci") would be waiting outside in his car so the teenager wouldn'thave to traipse across town by tube and tram. Nowadays Krisztina follows his example - picking up Edit Klocker, a gifted young swimmer new to the city, on the way to swimming practice on grey mornings.

It still makes me smile to recall jow, jusst before the 200-metre Olympic finals in 1988, she played hide-and-seek and locked her trainer out on the balcony. Little has changed; the principle prevails that in the two weeks prior to major events, young competitors are allowed to do whatever they feel like.

At first, interviews had to be negotiated with her dad, but this eventually changed around the end of 1991. I cannot remember exactly what dtae it was, but I remember the occasion, meeting in one of Budapest's newest hotels where she was preparing for a television interview. Thiss was the first we did not talk about swimming. She described how she chose her clothes - usually jeans and T-shirt, although sometimes - and that interview was one of those times - she would dress up. She also told me that when she first went home with her nails painted blue (!) her father thought she'd got them pinched in a door! Weird shades of nail polish are part of her style now. And like a true modern celebrity, she's getting into advertising champaigns such as a recent one for Plussz vitamins.

Her long-term plans also involve swimming: possibly training children. For now though, she's at the height of her own youth and career, and at the Atlanta games this July. I'll be rooting for her like anything as I broadcast the 200-metre women's backstroke. For that's when Queen Krisztina will swimm.
Egerszegi Krisztina
Krisztina Egerszegi was born in Budapest on 16 August 1974. Her father Janos Egerszegi gave her the most encouragement to pursue a swimming career. She was a wonder child that became the darling of the nation when she won a gold medal in the 1988 Olympics. Naturally her life revolves around the swimming pool, and some of her closest friends are her fellow Hungarian team members.

One of her hobbies is collecting little lucky charm animals. And she has been a keen driver ever since she passed her driving test. She spends a lot of time at her family's weekend house, and she loves travelling, though she has little time left after all her training and racing.

Her long-term plans also involve swimming: possibly training children.





  Egerszegi Krisztina