In the space of three Olympic Games between Seoul 1988 and Atlanta 1996, Hungarian swimmer Krisztina Egerszegi won five individual gold medals. And she remains the only woman to have done so.
Very few swimmers have dominated in such fashion. Mark Spitz and Michael Phelps are, of course, exceptions. But Egerszegi merits a special mention due to her domination and longevity.
Egerszegi came to wider attention when she won three European junior titles in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, in 1988 before arriving at the Olympic Games in Seoul with a best time of 2:13.69. She was only 14 and ninth-fastest in the world that year.
Coach Laszlo Kiss knew Egerszegi was destined for glory. But to keep her focussed was a big task. “She didn’t feel the pressure. She was too young. I tried to keep her from getting bored in the village by playing hide and seek with her,” Kiss had said.
The 100 metres final saw her send out a warning to her rivals, with a time of 1:01.56. That won her the silver medal behind East Germany’s Kristin Otto.
Then came the 200 metres backstroke. At 45 kg, she was lighter than any of her competitors. She won the race in an Olympic record time of 2:09.29 over Katherin Zimmerman and Cornelia Sirch of East Germany. She thus became the youngest-ever athlete to win an Olympic gold. Egerszegi went on to claim two more consecutive 200 metres backstroke titles at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic Games.
Her feat in Seoul was one of the biggest TV moments in Hungary. The famous phrase “Come on Mouse, come on little girl” by Tamas Vitray, who was on air, is part of the popular culture. In 2000, a documentary film, titled Egerszegi, was made. She is still worshipped back home.