Performance25 Mar 2021

Szogi's journey - from kayaking to running


Hungarian middle-distance runner Istvan Szogi (© Jean-Pierre Durand)

Hungarian 1500m champion Istvan Szogi set a national indoor record of 3:37.55 en route to victory in Vienna in January. But it was actually the sport of competitive kayaking which sowed the early seeds of the 25-year-old’s future running success.

"I grew up around kayaking from the age of five," he explains. "My mother, Magdolma, represented the national team in the sport and my four older siblings also kayaked, so I guess it was inevitable that I too would start the sport.

"I also played football, basketball, handball and did track and field at elementary school but my main focus was kayaking – a big sport in Hungary, where we achieve lots of success at the Olympic level."

Istvan Szogi believes his start in kayaking helped his future running career

Starting out

"I first competed from the age of six or seven, although back then I just enjoyed practise and I remember going out for warm-up runs happy to talk the other kayakers at the back," Szogi adds.

"It was only from the age of about eight or nine when I started to become more serious and competitive about the sport. 

"As I was still quite young there was little opportunity to compete internationally but I was competing in national events and made the podium on a number of occasions. I enjoyed the longer races from distances of 4km to 10km and the competitions were typically on a lake.  

"I really enjoyed being out on the water, competing with others and having fun. I always loved competition and pushing my limits – especially as my older siblings also competed as well."

Istvan Szogi on the podium during his days as a junior kayaker

A sporting switch

"I quit kayaking to focus on running at the age of 13," he says. "The reason why I made that decision was I was so skinny and short compared to the other guys who were so tall and big. I thought: 'I just can’t compete with these bigger athletes!' 

"By that point, I was also enjoying quite a lot of success as a runner. My mum always encouraged me to compete in road races and I often placed in the top three for my age-group. 

"But a key moment for me came when I finished second in a local cross country. I remember I beat all of the older guys except one. The coach of the local club spoke to me after the race and asked if I wanted to compete for their track club because he thought I could be very good. His name was Ferenc Reichnach, a former 1:46 800m runner, who became my first coach.

"Looking back, I think kayaking set me up well in many ways for my future career in running. The discipline, determination and competitiveness in kayaking were all important elements I took away from my time in the sport. Meanwhile, training almost every day from the age of five gave me a great overall conditioning. I feel this gives me a little edge on other athletes who perhaps only started training at the age of 15.  

"Even when training for kayak we ran most days. We’d often warm up with a run or on a weekend go for a longer run and I think this definitely helped my overall fitness."

Steve Landells for World Athletics 

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