An NBC broadcaster is not backing down from a comment made during Saturday night’s broadcast of the Rio Olympics that has drawn criticism and accusations of sexism.
After Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu won gold and set an eye-popping world record in the 400-meter individual medley, NBC’s Dan Hicks described Hosszu’s husband, Shane Tusup, as the “man responsible” for her win. Tusup also serves as Hosszu’s coach, but it was calling her husband “responsible” that brought a torrent of criticism.
Hicks said, according to the Associated Press, that Hosszu has told him that she credits Tusup, who was wildly celebrating as she lowered the world record by two seconds, with helping her strength training, intensity and confidence. Hicks’s word choice was immediately blasted on social media, with some wondering how he would feel if his wife, ESPN’s Hannah Storm, were credited with his success.
“It is impossible to tell Katinka’s story accurately without giving appropriate credit to Shane, and that’s what I was trying to do,” Hicks told the AP.
But the Hosszu-Tusup story is far more nuanced than Hicks’s post-race description and his failure was in not saying more about that, even if rumors of possible steroid use and alleged borderline abuse by Tusup don’t fit neatly into NBC’s Olympic narrative. Hicks alluded to Tusup’s influence on the air.
“It can be very, very harsh,” Hicks said on Saturday’s broadcast. “In fact, it’s been a little disturbing to some of the other swimmers who have observed it.” He went on to note that she has said he’s different away from the pool and added, “he has turned her into a tiger” in the water.
Hosszu’s performances have indeed improved significantly since Tusup began coaching her. Therefore, her eye-popping world record in Rio, after failing to medal in London in 2012, had the swimming world buzzing. The Post’s Barry Svrluga quotes Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, who said it was “insane” when Hosszu was five seconds ahead of record pace at one point.
Coventry has won seven Olympic medals, including silver in the 400 IM eight years ago in Beijing. She is on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s athletes’ council. Her opinion counts. Coventry swam in a heat of the 100 backstroke Sunday afternoon, as did Hosszu. Coventry said she congratulated her Hungarian opponent on the previous night’s swim.
“I think, unfortunately, that everything that’s come out with the McLaren report and with the Russians, I think most Eastern European countries are all being looked at the same way regardless of the doping controls in their own country,” Coventry said. “That’s unfortunately just where we are. Everyone’s a little skeptical of everything, I think, and everybody.”
In a New York Times story on the couple, Jessica Hardy, an Olympic medalist who used to train with Hosszu in Los Angeles and wrote about being subjected to verbal and emotional abuse as a child, told Karen Crouse that Tusup’s behavior has been “scary,” adding that she’s “seen a lot of inappropriate and not-okay behavior in Shane.” Crouse writes of another post-race moment:
After the backstroke, Hosszu avoided making eye contact with Tusup, who upbraided her while swimmers from other teams stared. Tusup continued his critique in the warm-down area, where two people said they overheard him suggesting to Hosszu that she stay in the water and drown.
Many other coaches have been known to use motivation that borders on verbal abuse of their athletes, and Hicks seemed to struggle with how to describe Tusup’s antics during the race. As for Hosszu, she said, according to Svrluga, that “after I started working with Shane, after London, we decided that we were just going to keep racing and keep improving and when I get to Rio, I’m just going to have fun.”
It’s a complicated story, one that doesn’t fit neatly into the time allotted to post-race TV chatter. But more so, it takes away from the fact that we’re talking more about two men rather than a woman’s gold medal performance.