Renata Csay: A True Champion

Constantly searching for the next challenge, the unassuming, modest mother of two has clocked up an unrivalled fifteen Marathon World Championship gold medals. Balint Vekassy finds out what makes Csay such a special athlete.

Q. When you were young, you stated that after winning one major international competition you would quit. In 2014, you won your fifteenth gold medal in Oklahoma City, and you stated that it is conceivable that you will continue to compete beyond the 2015 World Championships in your hometown of Győr. Where do you get this kind of strength?

I don’t think it’s a matter of strength, but experiencing sport in the most natural way as part of our everyday life. I grew up by the river and kayaking became a part of my life. I even found my husband through the sport (Gábor Kolozsvári, C1 Men’s Canoe Marathon World Champion). Our son, Brúnó has started paddling and our daughter, Lili, also loves water sports.

I don’t see kayaking as a job, it’s not a burden. I enjoy preparing for competitions, especially the moment just before the start of a race. I’m genuinely excited before the start pistol goes off. Maybe the celebration after a gold medal has somewhat shortened and, often, on the podium my thoughts are already towards the next challenge.

Q. Have you always been this focused?

No, when I was younger I made efforts that I thought were sufficient at the time. I rarely passed up opportunities to have fun and be with friends, and fate has saved me the trouble of making choices. Everything changed when I met my husband who was at the top of his game at the time. Although he has never interfered with my training method, there were occasions when he did not quite understand why I had taken things so lightly. I regret that I haven’t invested a little more energy on 1000m discipline, because I could really use that experience over 5000m these days. Besides marathon, I really wish to be a World Champion at 5000m, but I can’t make up for what I missed early in my career.

Q. Would it be right to say that you were born for marathon paddling?

I have never considered myself an athlete with special qualities, but my physical capability, mental strength and willpower, coupled with the spirit of Győr have led me this way. Our club is situated where two rivers join and it’s very well positioned for long paddling trips that we did often when I was a young. Even the role models were marathon paddlers, and I still sort of feel that the heyday of the sport was when Susanne Gunnarsson and her peers were competing. Those were the days …

Q. You had two outstanding coaches working with you during your career. Besides your current one, László Sztanity, you had the chance to work with Róbert Ludasi, master coach of canoeing legend, György Kolonics. Is there anything in particular that you have to thank them for?

Everything. They are both exceptional, with fantastic knowledge of the sport, so it was (and still is) easy to trust them one hundred per cent. During the six years in Ludasi’s team I was training with the most successful marathon canoe paddler, Edvin Csabai, and his C2 partner Attila Györe, not to mention the two-time Olympic gold medallist György Kolonics. I have improved a great deal being part of that team, but when our first child was born we moved back from Budapest to Győr and continued training with László Sztanity.

Q. How much did your children change you?

A lot. I no longer see bad days and failures to be as drastic as I used to and can turn the page more easily. My days are mapped out more precisely, too. Sometimes I feel guilty, though, that in the summer my preparation comes first, instead of their holiday time. Of course I try to compensate in the off-season. For instance, if it’s snowing we all take a day off and go for a long sledge session.

Anyway, I’m the exact same mum as the others: I pack snacks before school, check their homework and read bedtime stories for them. I just happen to be a kayaker and not an engineer, a teacher or a nurse.

Q. There must be a lot of wannabe kayak stars who would die to sit in a K2 with you. Do you have a similar kind of dream paddling partner?

May I choose a K4 instead? Because I would very much love to try myself with the Olympic Champion Hungarian boat, Gabriella Szabó, Danuta Kozák, Katalin Kovács and Krisztina Fazekas-Zur. That would be rocking!

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