We’re six whole days into the 2016 Olympics in Rio and the GladiatHers® of the world have not disappointed. They’re setting personal, Olympic and world records; inspiring us with their stories of perseverance and triumph; and even disappointing us in heartbreaking losses. The Olympics are absolutely meeting and surpassing my expectations. But in the midst of all the greatness, the media and the public have managed to give us far too many moments of mediocrity and stupidity. In instances where women are focused on winning gold medals and bringing glory to themselves, their families and their countries; people sitting at home and in their comfy news chairs choose to talk about hairstyles, unconventional family ties, the masculinity of performances and husband’s careers. Sigh. Listen, Gabby’s edges don’t need to be laid; Simone’s parents are her parents; Katie doesn’t swim like a man, she swims like Katie effing Ledecky; and Mitch Unrein’s wife has a name, it’s Corey Cogdell and she’s a hell of a shooter. I’m not sure why, but I still get surprised and disappointed with the routine refusal to acknowledge women for their greatness without making undercutting commentary.
Perhaps the most disappointing of the undercutting commentary has come at the expense of Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian woman whose been racing out of her mind in Rio. After a disappointing showing in London in 2012, Katinka and her husband/coach Shane Tusup set out on a mission to come back to Rio stronger, faster and richer. By in large, they’ve done just that together. Thus far, Hosszu has set a new world and Olympic record and won three gold medals. Her dominance in the pool is unquestionable. Unfortunately, some commentators would like you to believe that Tusup and his coaching prowess are responsible for Hosszu’s success. Let’s be very, very clear; Hosszu is responsible for Hosszu’s success. Yes, Tusup has coached and likely inspired her, but at the end of the day, each and every athlete is responsible for his/her own success. Hosszu alone swam every practice and every meet. Hosszu alone earned each and every win and each and every dollar. She got her body up day in and day out, battled depression and defeat, and sacrificed normalcy for greatness. Any suggestion otherwise is rooted in pure sexist thought.
But that’s not why I’m most upset at the coverage Hosszu’s been receiving. In addition to not being able to take credit for her own success, Hosszu’s had to endure pretty incessant conversation about her the health of her marriage and coaching relationship. From his poolside reactions, it is clear that Tusup is passionate about his swimmer’s success. He’s often found standing poolside intensely watching, cheering and directing Hosszu in practice and competition. Rumor has it that he has no qualms about letting her know when he’s proud or when he’s disappointed in her performances. He’s a coach who requires greatness from his swimmer. His passion has drawn attention from the public and questions about whether his coaching reaches abusive levels. Hosszu has repeatedly assured us that while there is no doubt that he is an intense, demanding coach, they have a healthy, loving relationship.
But Hosszu’s word doesn’t seem to be enough because, apparently, not only is she not strong enough to win on her own, but she’s also not strong enough to stand up for herself and endure grueling, strict coaching and training. The suggestions that Tusup is somehow abusing his wife and encouraging the usage of performance enhancers seems to be rooted in the media’s paternalistic view of female athletes, not fact. The world seems to hold a view that female athletes should be handled with kid gloves and shouldn’t be yelled at or pushed to the limit. We generally don’t bat an eye when we see intense men coaching men, but the sight of a man yelling at his female athletes often draws red flags. It draws red flags because society still wants women to be docile, helpless creatures who can’t handle toughness. Sure, some men can be abusive and some coaches can take it too far, so we should be mindful of dangerous behavior. But we’re dealing with an able-minded, world-class, adult athlete who has willingly entered into this relationship. Hosszu willingly decided that she needed a change and that her husband and his style of coaching were the best fit for the change. Hosszu and her swim times have shown that she is satisfied with Tusup’s coaching and their marriage. That should be enough.
Many seem to want Hosszu to be abused athlete, driven to cheating for the glory of her husband. That ain’t the story she or the facts are telling, so I’m not buying it. The story I’m buying is one of the intense will and desire to win even if it’s painful and even if it’s unconventional. Some athletes need constant positive, calm reinforcement to be successful. But some athletes need coaches who pull greatness from them with yelling, intensity and relentlessness. It’s ok if athletes who need the latter happen to be women because you know what, women are tough. Women don’t always need to be coddled and they don’t always need someone to intrude into what works for them, even when it doesn’t fit society’s mold. If Hosszu needs demanding coaching to be great and she wants that intensity to come from her husband, we should be ok with that.