By Chelsea White on 08/07/16 at 11:00 am
They say it takes a village to raise a child, but for Slovakian’s Richard Varga, it took family to make him an Olympian. From getting him into triathlon to passing on amphibious-like genes, Varga will line up on Copacabana Beach come this August as one to watch.
At the elite level, not many athletes boast a dominance as strong as Varga’s record of exiting the swim first. The king of the swim, Varga has emerged from the swim as the leader in 26 of 31 World Triathlon Series starts. The Slovakian is also a four-time Aquathlon World Champion, having won titles in 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2015.
Adding strong bike and run segments to his impressive swims, Varga sits 25th in the Olympic Qualification Rankings, solidly securing his second Olympic berth.
But it wasn’t just Varga’s skill in the water that led him to triathlon. In fact, it was Varga’s brother who first tried his hand at combining swimming with biking and running.
Varga would tag along to competitions with his family to cheer on his older brother. Although Varga was more interested in swimming as a youngster, his brother’s participation at the Slovakian Aquathalon National Championships peaked his interest in the multisport world. From the age of 12, he would spend his summer holidays competing in national triathlon races and fell in love with the sport.
“My family has always been my biggest supporter, my brother “brought” me to the sport,” Varga said. “He is seven years older than me, but he was always patient to train with me when I was a kid.”
The family influences don’t end there for Varga, who credits his relatives to his success.
“My swimming background is from my family. My grandma used to swim, my mum was a national record holder and multiple national champion, her sisters were swimmers and my older brother used to swim, and we also all swam in the same club under the same coach. This coach has given me so much, including teaching me how to be a good sportsman. Since I was 10 years old until 19 I had kept breaking national swim records for each age group category. Every year I earned national titles in every stroke and I was racing European Junior Championships. So why did I become so good at the swim? Probably the genetics helped me but definitely hard training helped as well.”
“My mum and dad were always helping me to get to training and races and kept me nice and grounded,” Varga said of his amazing family support from over the year.
In that respect, not much has changed, as many members of the Varga family often make the trek to international races, now to cheer on Varga instead of his older brother, as well as tote his equipment and track the competition during races.
After the London Olympics, where Varga finished 22nd, he moved to the northern English city of Leeds where he would be influenced by another set of brothers - the Brownlees. Joining their training group, Varga has markedly improved his bike and run to be ranked 27th in the world.
“It was, and it is still, like one big school. Alistair and Jonny have taught me so much about triathlon. Before I didn’t know what triathlon training looked like. I also learned a lot about myself, like how to listen to my body. We are great friends and spending time while doing what you love with your mates is just priceless. We have had some great years of training together.”
After qualifying as the lone triathlete to represent Slovakia, Varga will line up in Copacabana Beached armed with training and race experience from the best in the world.
“It’s quite different for me because before the first Olympics I wasn´t really sure if I could qualify. This time I qualified pretty easily, but I want to perform better this time. So, I´m putting more pressure on myself but I still want to enjoy it as much as first time.”
“I learned that it (the Olympics) is a very special race because everyone wants to win, and your country expects you to do well. For me, it means I want to give all I can in preparation so that when I stand on the start line I can tell myself that I have done everything I could for this race, and now it is just the time to show it off.”
And show off he will. Make no mistake that when August 18th rolls around, Varga will be setting the pace at Copacabana Beach, and the world will see how fast he can be.