His name is familiar to all swimming lovers, though he himself has just returned home after a 10-year European adventure purposed to gain experience. Árpád Petrov has undertaken the position many people longed for and many of them got frightened: he has become the coach for the three-time Olympic champion Katinka Hosszú and head coach of her newly launched club called Iron Swim.
How did you spend your first few days in Hungary?
As a replanted flower, new air, new environment, new relations, as a woken dream. If anybody had asked me ten years ago what I would have liked to do now, probably I would have answered that at a main place, possibly in Hungary to start a club, a swimmer, to work in a place considered to be as gem of the Hungarian swimming. I was always thinking of this concept, but the opportunity has not found me. Now it has happened
Comparing to your original plan you went quite far, didn’t you?
My father is a professional coach, my mother, my brother and my whole family work in swimming that means heavy burden and not always a pleasant one. I did not escape from my family but the environment they created. I was very passionate and I was often told that ‘your father was different, you are too straight, too vigorous’. I tried my limits as every young people. I often felt that I could not be myself. I wanted to create my own legacy without being compared to this and that. I was looking for the options and finally I chose Switzerland. I was graduated in engineering and I felt I could have a dual path there by working as an engineer and a coach, too. I started at a small town in Eastern-Switzerland, I worked part-time in my job and meantime as a head coach at a small club.
How can you insert engineering accuracy and mentality into coaching, managing a club?
I can use it well mostly in career planning and scheduling sources or when I compile a budget, determine the milestones and more important scopes for an athlete in a four-year term. Engineering background and the ten years spent in German-speaking area bring accuracy, fairness either in planning or promising. When we were talking to Katinka we tried to put together a precise concept on her and the club’s future and I can say that we were on the same page quite early.
Many people are concerned about Katinka’s coach? Weren’t you scared a bit by her?
Not even for a moment. We agreed on virtually with Katinka after the third telephone conversation. This is not only an opportunity but responsibility and honor as well.
How do you think you can work with Katinka?
The most important is that I would not only be her coach but she would be my competitor, too. We work for it. I expect her to give me straight feedback what she likes and what she does not. It seems that she is a very humble sportswoman and I feel that we get on well. Whatever technical issues or feeling I try to express about her swim, she immediately understands and reacts. Katinka can change the rhythm and dynamics of her motion, monitors her body and feelings, and not only monitors, but she is able to plan her movements. She is an ideal swimmer, but we know it, since she could not be here anyway.
Will you make some technical changes as well in her swim?
We have already talked about it before having agreed on. I made a complex analysis on her all strokes, on the opportunities and of course the threats as well. We plan some technical changes but only cautiously, we do not want to lose the dynamics of her swim.
Until now you developed and built everything alone, but now you have been got into a complete swimmer’s life. Do you think it will be easy or even more difficult?
It may not be the nicest comparison but I think that this is a mine that has not been exploited yet. There are always new technologies, new methods that could help to improve and develop such as in automotive industry. Katinka is Tesla of swimming. Tesla is very innovative, modern, it stepped into the market as a new player but became successful very fast and nobody knew its background. If you put me there as owner or managing director, I do not know what sale numbers I could achieve or how I could compete with rivals, but it is obvious that it is a must to have a go. However, we must keep what worked before, since it is indisputable that Katinka worked. I am thinking of harmonic relationships with a grown-up female swimmer in which we can go ahead by helping each other.
What kind of coach do you think you are?
Consistent. If I determined myself, I would highlight those situations when I finished something. I left all my clubs with tears. The children cried, the parents cried and me too. I could create a big family either in the Southern-Swiss region or in Zürich. I feel I could bring the best out of everybody, either it meant a personal best in a Swiss children competition, medal in a youth festival or youth Olympics, or qualification for the European championships. I always wanted to achieve that swimming or sport could play an important role in the children’s or swimmers’ life. I wanted to determine realistic goals and challenges and not to cause lifelong frustration that unfortunately I met many times. I had many swimming mates that looked themselves uncomprehendingly asking ‘why did I put so much energy into it and achieved nothing’. I did not want any of my swimmers think back their career like this and I think I could manage it.
Now you have to build a new club, too, that you are familiar with due to your experience in Switzerland. But how can you tune your own ideas with Katinka’s strong and determined concept and mentality?
We have very similar mentality and philosophy. She also prefers Western philosophy in her club that sport serves as significant element of life. We do not train machines, we do not want to leave people disappointed or destroy families. We would like to cover the society from A to Z, from Olympic hopes to those who needs swimming for their other sports such as triathlonists or come only for maintaining their health or their body structure does not fit to swimming but this sport is important for them. We will do our best to provide high quality service and professional background for them as well. Besides, it is important for us to support talents long term. We would like to connect professional sport with mass sport, to develop a broad base with small top. I think it could be rather attractive structure for all interested.
What are you the proudest of in your coaching career?
Probably for life balance that I could create. When I got home, I could always switch off and relax. One of the threats of coaching profession can be that if a coach is involved in sport too much, he cannot see over the free, back or fly and depends on swimming beyond measure. When I worked with swimmers, I was also involved in, but in the afternoon having finished my work, I was always able to find some way out. In Switzerland it was amateur water-polo or the university when I attend it. Relax could be for example any other challenge like self-education, sport and besides this I am big cinema fan. We must find the balance, otherwise we cannot achieve the maximum in any profession, even in coaching.
At the beginning you said that if you had been asked ten years ago about your plans in ten years, you could imagine similar life to the present one. If I ask you now where you would be and what you would speak about in not ten but two years, what would you say?
I do not know the exact date but probably we will be in the middle of the swimming competition in Tokyo Olympics. So, I would surely not want to talk to anybody… I hope that we would be over a good preparation with Katinka and we would be thinking of how to put the ice on the cake, how to make 101 percent from 100 percent. What would it be enough for? I do not know. But I trust that we could be able to improve the conscious and well-determined preparation she did before.
And what about Iron Swim? How can you imagine it in two years?
It belongs in top3 swim clubs in Hungary, if it is not the best, either in professional sport and lower categories. It could be our only goal with such a great professional team. We must give the same standard that athletes get in the successful Western countries, physiotherapist, support in prevention and sports physician. I feel we have lots of thing to learn or to bring in. Certainly, we must not take everything, but we have huge chances at this area. Overall, I hope that we will be in top3 in each age group and we can run an attractive program.