‘PAVING THE WAY’
WITH MATYAS SZABO
We had the pleasure to spend the day with world class fencer and Olympic athlete Matyas Szabo. Discussing his journey, we asked him about the support network that helped pave his way to the podium. Made up of friends, family, teammates and coaches.
Tell us a bit about your athletic journey. How was your childhood growing up as the son of two olympic fencers?
I would say I was a difficult child when I was younger. I wish I would have been more calm like my mom, but my dad and I are very emotional people. We’re really similar, so him being my coach was sometimes difficult. When I was younger we’d be at home and he would tell me to clean my room, to do this and that. When that continued throughout our practice, things tended to explode.
We fought often, and at a certain point I even changed my coach. Although after a year, my mom made us realise that this wasn’t a good solution either. I think my mom is the clever person in the family. We sat down together and talked about everything, and it did get better. Especially when I fully moved out at 21.
Right now I would say it's the best it's ever been. As I have gotten older, I can really talk to him on an equal level, and I feel that he really cares about what I have to say. Which was a bit different when I was a young fencer and didn’t have much experience yet. Especially in the last few years, we've gotten to know each other really well and we make a great team.
You mentioned that your mom is the clever one in the family. How does she support you on a day to day basis?
I talk to my mom a lot, and I really care about her opinion. All the things I am going through right now, she has already gone through. So I know she's extremely experienced, especially with sports, which really helps me understand how to adapt to a situation.
She always tries to calm me down, and help me out. She was a foil fencer, so strategy and fencing wise she can't help me too much, but the general experiences she had are very similar. Our conversations are often deep, and she doesn’t talk to me like I’m her kid. We can have serious discussions, and we talk often because of that.
I really appreciate her opinion and her experiences have definitely helped me become a better fencer. Sometimes it's strange, because it takes me some time to understand her advice. Then, as I get older I realise what she actually meant. It shows that my mind has really changed, especially in the last few years - I guess I’m getting older and wiser.
It seems your parents really prepared you for the aftermath of going to the Olympics. But - what was your Olympic experience like at the time? Any Highlights?
One of the highlights of my Olympic experience was definitely representing Europe as a torch bearer in Rio. I was lucky to get picked as one of the athletes that ran through the olympic village holding the torch.
Although I think the craziest moment for any athlete, without having won a medal, is entering the Olympic stadium for the opening ceremony. In Rio the stadium was full and the whole world was watching. That really was one the craziest moments of my life.
I was happy I could share those moments with my dad, who was there as my coach. But my mom never watches my bouts, so she didn’t come to Rio or Tokyo. It’s too stressful for her, even if she's an Olympic Silver and Bronze medalist, a world champion in individual and teams, and probably a European Champion as well. She needs to check the results first, and then she watches. It's quite funny and I am not mad at her, my father is always there and that's enough.
It seems that you have a wealth of advice and experience to draw on. Is there a particularly memorable piece of advice that you’ve gotten over the years?
I think the best piece of advice I’ve gotten was actually from my parents. The first time I went to the Olympics, they told me that I should not, even if I lose, be too stressed about it. Why? Because there are still other things, like the world championships, that I could win in the future.
At the time, I didn't really understand what they meant. I felt that it was easy for them to say that, since they already had Olympic Medals. So that felt kind of wrong at the time.
Although after going to the Olympics twice and not winning a medal, I really saw it from their perspective. There are a lot of things that are more important, such as family and general life. I am still figuring out how to accept this fact, and I think it will help me not overthink things too much in the future. Either way, at the moment, the Olympic Games are still the most important thing in my life.
Being able to share those experiences with your dad sounds really special. How did this influence your Olympic experience?
Like I said, my dad was always there for me. Even my teammates would often say that he’s not only my dad, but theirs as well. Especially for my old team, who sometimes had more time with him than their actual dads because we had so many training camps and competitions together.
I calculated that in one year we were away from home for roughly 3 months, so you really get to know each other. That's why during the Olympics we really relied on him and each other. Although I was also connected to my girlfriend, to my mother and my friends back home. Oh, and our physiotherapist is always with us - but other than that it's just my teammates and I.
You said that you are always in contact with people back home. So, who do you call to talk with when you find yourself in a tough spot?
I call my girlfriend. Although she doesn’t fence or do sports at a high level, she really understands me. We’ve been together for 8 years, so she knows what I worry about. It’s helpful to have someone outside of fencing who can think outside the box. It’s really important to have that kind of support. Sometimes I need a bit of time to be alone and think on things, but she’s always the first person I go to.
Having close friends retire before you must have been difficult. Did this make you consider your own future and legacy in fencing?
To be honest, when I was younger I really thought having a legacy was important. Every person that I knew in fencing said that Niko is one of the best fencers of our time. To me it felt like he already had a legacy, so when I was younger I really thought - "well, I want to be like him." I guess it would be nice, but becoming older and wiser made me realise that it's not necessary. It's not the thing I work towards everyday. I think that motivation is more personal.