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Ajna Késely: „I wish to do something truly big”

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Photo: József Szaka

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As coach György Turi describes, ‘Ajna is a real treasure’. The young Hungarian swimmer has already gathered more than 400 medals and she hasn’t even hit the age of 16 yet. Her idol is the iconic, five-time Olympic champion Krisztina Egerszegi. Ajna keeps the talisman she got from her as a good-luck charm in her bag all the time and she is not embarrassed when people compare her to Krisztina, in fact, she constantly seeks her idol’s advice. She won the European champion title at age 15 as a part of the 4x200 relay, whilst in Rio she was part of the team as the youngest Hungarian swimmer competing. The 17th FINA World Championships gives her a vast motivation to swim her personal best ever. Ajna is always happy with a big smile on her face, adoring swimming and easily becoming the favourite girl of the home crowds this July.

Her first name, Ajna means beauty, grace and kindness – nomen est omen – as the saying holds. In her younger years, she tried hip-hop dancing, but decided to stay with swimming that she started at the age of five.  For a long time now, Ajna wakes up at 4:30 am and attends school between the morning and afternoon trainings.

‘My Dad advised me to learn swimming, in the began the sport at the local Újhegy pool, then changed to the legendary Kőér Street venue, where I was recommended to try the discipline competitively as it was going pretty well” – recalled Ajna her introduction the swimming. “It has been ten years since then and I love it like I did on the first day. The early morning alarm kicks me out of bed, sometimes it is hard to get up that early but I have a working method. I set up an alarm 15 and 5 minutes before 4:30, this makes the wake up so much easier. One cannot get used to this, I just need to get up slowly, but from there it goes smoothly.”

The coach of Ajna, György Turi is leading the gifted swimmers’ carrier path at the Kőbánya Swim Club. He says that Ajna is not yearning for the spotlight, she wants to stand out with her results. She does want to be a world-class champion, but it is also important to stay a teenager.  Master coach Turi does not like making predictions or drawing parallels, but he is well aware of the treasure he has in his hands:

“Why Ajna is so good at swimming? She is strong mentally”- refects her coach, György Turi. “Her personality, her mind is very unique. One can meet many talented swimmers during the years but it’s rare to meet with a swimmer who is building up the professional career with such wisdom, maturity and tendentiousness at a surprisingly young age. Ajna is one of these swimmers.”

She picked backstroke as the favourite style at the Újhegy pool, but later at the famous Kőbánya Swim Club’s coaches realised that she has extra talent to become an excellent freestyle swimmer. The little girl became better and better at swimming, she broke Krisztina Egerszegi’s age group record in 2012 at the 100M backstroke at the age of 11 (!). Her idol, the legend was present at this competition and she even gave a talisman to Ajna, representing their strong, unique bond that is still ongoing.

“A long time ago, I was compared to Krisztina which made me very happy, it did not place extra pressure on me at all. It is not a burden for me, this comparison does not disturb me. We keep in touch, she is interested in my well-being and my training. Sometimes we meet up and we strictly don’t talk about swimming or technical details.” – said Ajna, who brings the stuffed animal mascot, which she got from Krisztina Egerszegi, to every competition she attends along with the stuffed sloth from the Ice Age movies she got from her mother. She cannot compete at any competition without these, but she has more pre-race rituals. She must give a high five to her coach for example before the race.

Four out of nine golden medals won at the European Youth Olympic Festival in Tbilisi by Team Hungary in 2015 were linked to Ajna’s name and one year later in 2016 she won her first senior gold medal at the European Championships in London as member of the 4x200M freestyle relay. Later in June at the European Junior Championships in Hódmezővásárhely (HUN) she won gold at four freestyle events (200M, 400M and 800M, 4x200M relay), and she put the icing on the cake at the Rio Olympic Games with her presence at the 200M and 400M freestyle races last year.

There is a huge map hanging on her home wall where she keeps track her of journeys thanks to swimming. The young swimmer’s mother still saves the little targets with the time results on it, prepared by Ajna herself prior to the races. Using the special, brain control method was her mother’s idea, this sort of mental preparation is the key to her success.

“It helps me a lot. I imagine the races beforehand in a great detailed: how we are going to be called in, how I am going to walk to the starting block, I imagine the atmosphere of the pool. I imagine how cold the water will be when I will jump in and start swimming, that the first 50 metres will be good but afterwards I will get tired. I imagine every second of the race, how the turns going to happen, the time I will swim and after the competition how happy my parents, my family and my coach shall be. I usually start the mental preparation some days prior to the bigger competitions. There is so much work at the competitive swimming but standing on the podium makes it all worth it. I like competing against others and think it through how much work I have put in” – explained Ajna.

Diligence, perseverance and proper thinking – these could be the keywords of Ajna but she gets her motivation from other channels. One signed book by Katinka Hosszú was given to her by her grandmother with a hidden message inside saying ‘hard work always pays off and it its worth to be consistent’.

She had 387 medals hanging on her wall in her room by the end of the 2016, this number has exceeded 400 at the moment. One of her biggest motivation is the giant poster on the wall of the Kőér Swimming Complex, every time she turns, the face of Krisztina Egerszegi, Ágnes Kovács, László Cseh and Károly Güttler give her power and strength to swim on. Her (not so) secret desire is to see her own face smiling back from that wall of fame one day in the future.

The 17th FINA World Championships will be her first World Championships and it is still not a hundred percent sure in which events she will start in. Coach György Turi has commented on the upcoming Event:

“It is hard to plan forward and to prepare for the World Chapionships where she has the biggest Hungarian and world class swimmers, Katinka Hosszú and Boglárka Kapás in front of her. Of course, there is a priority for them to choose which events they would like to race. This uncertainty makes her preparation and training a bit more difficult, Ajna must wait until the end of April to pick the races she should want to compete in. Yes, the situation is very similar to the one we had before Rio. I think Ajna has the biggest chances at the 4x200M freestyle relay, she was excellent in it in Rio and London. If there is a chance to compete in the 400M or 800M freestyle events, or at the 400M IM, she would be more than happy to race. Our goal is to show the world what can she do, but we must be patient.”

According to Ajna herself, she is now mature enough to try herself in IM also apart from freestyle. She is glad to ‘fight’ with Katinka Hosszú and Boglárka Kapás in the 400M freestyle, too.

“It is really good that I can race against with Katinka Hosszú and Boglárka Kapás, maybe I can learn a few tricks from them which can help me in the future. I want to do something big at the World Championships in Budapest.  A lot of things will be decided at the Hungarian National Championships in April. I would like to improve my personal best time in the three freestyle swimming races. I know that I have to correct my faults in breaststroke until the Nationals, but I am very curious what I can achieve in the 400M medley.”

According to the Coach Turi, the level of domestic competition is really high to make it to the World Championships roster even for the relays, as out of five potential athletes only four will be included. Katinka Hosszú has not made her exact plans public yet. As György Turi says, Ajna Késely should focus on one goal:

“Ajna’s main goal should be to improve her personal best time, since she is only 15 years old. More mature athletes focus more on reaching the top of the podium. The time result is the most important for Ajna even for the World Championships.”

Ajna Késely cannot wait to compete in the Danube Arena. She would like to experience the magical domestic atmosphere again that she received from the fans at the European Junior Championships in Hódmezővásárhely last year.

“I received a huge adrenalin bomb in Hódmezvásárhely. A lot of supporters came to cheer for us, it was a great feeling to go to the pool and show what I am capable of. This is what I would like to experience again. A lot of people say that it is possible to perform better at home-held competition and I would like to prove it and do something big as I mentioned before.”

According to Csaba Sós, head coach of the Hungarian National Swim Team, it will be worth to go to the Danube Arena to see Ajna swimming. Probably Krisztina Egerszegi herself will be on the grandstand, cheering on her young friend.

Ajna has recently won the Women for Sport Award in junior category for her results, ambition, mentality presented by the Hungarian Olympic Committee in March 2017.

”I am very happy, I cannot believe that I just got his award. It gives me motivation for the trainings that I need now, because the trainings are really hard this time of the year.” – said Ajna after receiving the award.