Hungarians love medleys. The Dutch are known to dominate the sprint. The Japanese specialize in breaststroke. The Swedes excel in butterfly.
In a sport like swimming, where medals will be awarded in 35 different pool events at the Tokyo Olympics, it makes sense for many countries to focus on a single stroke or event.
“It all depends on what role models you have when you grow up,” said Sarah Sjostrom, the Swedish star who won an Olympic gold medal and seven world titles in the butterfly events.
Sjostrom’s idols as a child were six-time Olympian Therese Alshammar, Anna-Karin Kammerling and Josefin Lillhage. Alshammar and Kammerling swam the fly and freestyle sprints and Lillhage did the 200-meter freestyle.
No wonder Sjostrom has built his career around the fly and free sprints, as well as the 200 free.
“ I wanted to run Thérèse. I wanted to run Anna-Karin Kammerling and Josefin Lillhage, ” Sjostrom said. “ In Sweden, girls admire me. They want me to run in the future, so they want to run the 50 and 100 flies. ”
The butterfly is also popular in Hungary, although it is part of a larger tradition of grueling medley events that feature the four strokes: butterfly, backstroke, breaststroke and freestyle.
Tamas Darnyi won gold in both IMs (the 200 and 400) at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics and Krisztina Egerszegi won the 400 IM in 1992 to add to a slew of back medals.
Four of the six Olympic medals Laszlo Cseh won between 2004 and 2012 came in IM, then Katinka Hosszu swept gold in IM four years ago in Rio de Janeiro.
“For us Hungarians we are very stubborn and very hardworking and we can just get by,” said Hosszu, who is known as the “Iron Lady. ”
“ The 400 IM is where Hungary gets a lot of respect because a 400 IM is really about work, ” added Hosszu.
Dutch veterans Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Femke Heemskerk grew up idolizing sprint legends Inge de Bruijn and Pieter van den Hoogenband and train in a pool named after the latter.
“We are tall people and we are a very small country, so we have to train wisely,” Heemskerk said. “ In Hungary, they are used to working hard from a young age. We don’t do that, so maybe that’s why we sprint. ”
Russia also has a tradition of producing great acrobatic sprinters, led by Alexander Popov; just like the French with Alain Bernard and Frédérick Bousquet paving the way for the current suitor Florent Manaudou.
There are of course exceptions to the rule.
Kira Toussaint is the rare Dutch backstroke swimmer and Arno Kamminga, another Dutch swimmer, is breaststroke. While Toussaint is the daughter of an Olympic backstroking champion, she and Kamminga attribute their stroke choices to their body size: they are shorter and stockier than their sprint teammates.
“I’m not that long or that tall,” Kamminga admitted. “ But I’ve always loved breaststroke. . I’m just happy to be competing with the best in the world. ”
Even the United States and Australia, the two powerful swimming teams, have their favorite events.
For the United States, it’s the men’s 100 and 200 backstroke, where the team’s last Olympic loss for both events was in 1992. Ryan Murphy, who swept both races in Rio, will try to keep the streak in place. next week, building on a legacy that also included doubles from Lenny Krayzelburg and Aaron Peirsol.
Between 1992 and 2004, the Australians won the 1,500 freestyle _ the longest race in the pool _ at four consecutive Olympic Games. Kieren Perkins (1992 and 1996) and Grant Hackett (2000 and 2004) each won back-to-back gold medals in this event.
These days Italy is a force in the distance events, with both Gregorio Paltrinieri and Simona Quadarella favorites for medals in the 1,500m.
In breaststroke, the rising star of the host nation is Shoma Sato, 20. The bar was set high by the great Japanese Kosuke Kitajima, who won both breaststroke events at the 2004 and 2008 Games.
“(Kitajima) transformed the way breaststroke was swimming,” said Christian Minotti, coach of Quadarella. “ He modernized the stroke and made it more creative and fluid. ”