Golden Gyurta handed finishing fright
Daniel Gyurta is renowned for his fast finishing but as he entered the closing stages of the 200 metres breaststroke final at the London Games he was suddenly worried his Olympic dream would be cut to shreds.
The received wisdom on the pooldeck was that if Gyurta turned first into the final 50 metres, the Olympic title was as good as his as nobody in the field packed the Hungarian's finishing punch.
As he closed in on glory, however, he suddenly found himself being hunted down by Britain's Michael Jamieson, who was being roared on by a passionate home crowd hoping to see their first male gold medallist in the pool since 1988.
"It was a real surprise for me," Gyurta told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday as he protectively fondled his gold medal. "I know he has really good form and he is a great swimmer but in the last 20 metres it was getting closer and closer and closer.
"I could see him coming. I was able to see him all the time. All 200 metres, I could see right and left and at every turn the British guy and the Japanese guy were there.
"It was really hard, but I won the medal."
Scotland's Jamieson finished just 0.15 seconds behind, after both he and Gyurta lunged together for the wall. Japan's Ryo Tateishi, swimming in the outside lane, was third.
The result and the world record time of two minutes, 07.28 seconds was a tonic to soothe the disappointment of finishing fifth in the last Games in Beijing, four years after he won silver in Athens as a 15-year-old.
Beijing was a low point, he said, but it provided him with the well-timed kick needed to spur him on.
It is a relentless effort of endless training camps piled on top of a Sisyphean swimming regime, five or six hours day at the centralised Hungarian programme in Budapest, but it has culminated in the ultimate reward.
"This was the dream when I was young," he said.
In both Athens and Beijing he was beaten by Kosuke Kitajima, the multiple Olympic gold medal winning breaststroker.
The Japanese finished fourth on Wednesday, more than a second off the pace, and having flirted with retirement after Beijing, is unlikely to make it to Rio in four years time.
Kitajima remains, however, the benchmark that Gyurta is hoping to live up to.
"Kitajima is the biggest breaststroker, he has four Olympic gold medals, and a lot of world records," Gyurta said.
"But now I can go faster than him, last year and this year too.
"I am pretty happy because I can do it. But he is what I want to live up to."
Even to be considered in the same breath as Kitajima, the Hungarian would have to repeat his gold medal success in four years time and having got the Olympic monkey off his back, few you would bet against him repeating the trick in Rio.
"I am just 23 years old," he added.
"I can feel the power of my sport."