Hungary’s László Cseh closes Olympic career without gold

TOKYO (AP) — László Cseh outlasted longtime rivals Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Now, the six-time Olympic medalist is bidding farewell himself.

The 35-year-old Hungarian great retired yesterday as one of the world’s best swimmers to never win gold in five Olympics.

He came close, though.

The peak of Cseh’s career coincided with Phelps’ dominance. At the 2008 Beijing Games, Cseh lost three times to Phelps, who set world records in winning the 200 Individual Medley (IM), 400 IM and 200 butterfly on his way to a historic eight golds.

“It was very fun to race against him and he inspired me to be better,” Cseh said.

Five years ago in Rio, Cseh was denied again. Fittingly, he tied Phelps and South Africa’s Chad le Clos for silver in the 100 fly behind Joseph Schooling of Singapore. It was Phelps’ final race, ending a career in which he won 28 medals, including 23 gold.

László Cseh swims in the men’s 200m individual medley semifinal at the 2020 Summer Olympics, in Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: AP

Lochte failed to make the United States (US) team for Tokyo in what would have been the 36-year-old’s fifth Olympics, leaving the Hungarian as the last man standing in their longtime rivalry.

Cseh swam for the last time in the 200 IM final, 17 years after his Olympic debut in Athens. Fans in Hungary watching at 4am local time saw him finish seventh in one minute, 57.68 seconds — 2.68 seconds behind winner Wang Shun of China.

“I’m sorry for the time, that it wasn’t better,” he said. “I tried to give my best.” Cseh had expected to end his career last year in Tokyo, but the coronavirus pandemic postponed the Olympics for a year. It was a difficult year in another way, too. His father, László Sr, died last August at age 68. The elder Cseh was a two-time Olympic swimmer.

The younger Cseh’s wife, Diana, encouraged him to keep training.

“If I stay home and watch some TV, I would really think, ‘Oh, I could have done this’, and maybe that would be an everlasting anxiousness for me or regret,” he said. “This was the best way to close down because now I’m calm in my mind.”

Cseh earned a spot in lane eight on the far outside of the pool after qualifying with the slowest time.

“I didn’t expect him to be here,” said American Michael Andrew, who was fifth. “It’s an honour to race with him.”