Hosszú Katinka tudja, egy bajnok nem adja fel (Fotó: Dömötör Csaba)

– Almost...     
– It would have been great to reach the podium, then I would only need three more medals to get to a 100 – Katinka Hosszú said in the mixed zone with a smile on her face Saturday night after finishing fourth in the 400m medley. – Nevertheless, these eight days were great, and I know that I have said it a hundred times, so perhaps it is boring, but it was fantastic to swim in front of a Hungarian crowd again. By the way, for the first time in twelve years, I did not listen to music before my competition, but waved at the spectators and listened to their cheering: I tried to draw strength from it. I think I succeeded.

I'm going to spoil your mood a little bit right away: the last time you didn't listen to music was in 2011.
– You mean the national anthem?

And the World Championships in Shanghai.
– I remember Shanghai, I just don't think about it. I've been trying to forget that race for the last few years, pretending like it didn't happen. By the way, I recalled that race at the end of the 400 medley heats because I told Viktória Mihályvári-Farkas, who did not make the final, that I was already a world champion in this distance, when the same thing happened to me in Shanghai, so she shouldn't despair. My example shows that we should never give up.

The two World Championships are similar, but the two Katinkas aren't. This one is noticeably more loved by the fans. I wonder why.
– Because I've made myself to be loved over the years. I'm kidding! Maybe fans love me because I already have 96 medals from big competitions and because I've been at the top for a long time. And perhaps also because the viewers understand what I have said several times in recent months: swimming in a World Championships final is already a huge achievement.

What makes you, as a champion, stand on the starting block and fight, even though you know you can't win this time?
– Because a champion, an athlete can't give up. The fact that I stand there even if I'm not 100% in shape adds more to me. As a person and an athlete, I will just be more.

A lot of people would run away from this.
– I think differently. I'm not saying it's easy, but we're sportsmen because we don't run away even when we don't perform the way we want.

–  Yes, but it's different when there's a deadlock in your career, and it's different when the athlete herself says that she cannot make it back to the same place she used to be. And that's what you're saying.
– I find that people feel and understand what I am talking about. I think it's not just the medals and the rankings that are important in sport – of course, we are constantly fighting to be the best, but what the athlete represents is also important. And I represent that I dare to stand on the starting block even if I don't win. I've been up and I've been down. I want to enjoy this situation because I, and others, can learn from it, too.

– And if I say 4:35.96?     
– Then I say, “Goodbye!”

Don't leave yet: the question meant whether or not you thought about the fact that you could've stood on the podium with your personal best.
– I didn't really think I'd leave you just because you asked me if I was behind my personal best this year in the final. Of course, after I finished and looked up at the board, that's what I remembered when I saw my time. It annoys me a little bit, but everyone swam worse in the final than they've been able to do this year. I feel bad that we haven't got what the men have already: their 400m medley was moved to the first day of the World Championships, but we stayed on the last one. Throughout my career, I struggled with the fact that I was tired by the eighth day of the world championships. This time it was the same, even if I did not take on as many events as before. I was still here all the time, trained in the atmosphere of the world championships, it was difficult mentally to keep in shape – over the years it became clear that the time results of the 400m medley at the world championships are irrelevant.

We still had a little joy with the final, as you retained your world record in the 400m medley.
– In addition, I usually win the World Championships with a time of 4:30...

–  15-year-old Summer McIntosh of Canada won the event. What do you think of her?
– I like what she's doing, and as I see, she swims the 400m medley just like I used to. The question is how becoming a woman affects her performance. We've seen examples in the past where someone's very good as a young swimmer, and then she disappears in those years. I hope this won't happen to her. It would be great to get back in shape so that I have a chance to swim against her.

You really never give up. Can you draw strength from the fact that you were the only European present in the final?
– This is definitely a good omen for the European Championships in Rome in August but failing to win the bronze medal is a thorn in my side. My tactics turned out to be good because I wanted to swim with Emma Weyant of the USA, and after all, she got third place. But despite the time result, I feel like I've made a lot of progress, I think this final showed everyone that I'm working on increasing the number of medals – I will somehow manage to get four more...

– You'll have a lot of chances in Rome. You won your first world championship medals there: gold in the 400m medley and bronzes in the 200m medley and the 200m butterfly. In preparation, do you recall memories from thirteen years ago?
– For sure because they're going to help me. But life writes the script of my career so interestingly: I return to Rome to fight to increase the number of medals there – I get goosebumps even just talking about this possibility! But I received this World Championships in Budapest as a gift in the same way, and although these eight days on the imaginary shelf will not be as high as the World Championships in Hungary five years ago, I will remember it forever: in 2017, I did something great as an athlete, but this competition is taken with Katinka, the person. And at the end of the year, the bonus can come, because the Short Course Worlds is moved from Kazan to Melbourne, and I experienced the first big pool world championship of my career in this very Australian city.