Hoping To Make Some Waves This Season North Penn's Dominick Szabo Learned A Lot About The Breaststroke In Hungary.

Posted: November 25, 1998

Dominick Szabo won't forget his 16th birthday for a long time.

On July 16, the North Penn junior was training as he never had before at the Budapesti Honved Swim Club in Budapest, Hungary. And he was in good company.

Jozsef Nagy - inventor of the wave stroke, a special motion for breaststrokers - was coaching him. Olympian Norberth Rozsa was swimming in the same pool. And many talented teenagers were making waves with their American guest.

But what Szabo remembers most vividly about the month he spent working on his breaststroke is the first week and a half of training. The experience was so trying that he sighed deeply when he recounted what happened.

``Oh, God, the practices were a lot different and harder, and with the jet lag, they were 10 times more difficult,'' Szabo said. ``That first week, I could barely keep up with them. Girls 13 and 14 were beating me.''

The North Wales resident, who is of Hungarian descent, received no sympathy from Nagy. A stern taskmaster, Nagy let Szabo know that if he was serious about improving his swimming, neither jet lag nor anything else would affect him.

The coach wasn't interested in hearing how many days off from training Szabo had before he started swimming in Budapest. Nagy didn't want to hear about the differences in practice, either. Szabo had gone from six practices a week with the North Penn Aquatic Club to 12 in Budapest.

The sets were different from what he was used to, too. The swimmers had to do eight laps, with the first and third as hard as they could go. Stroke work also increased from 75 percent at North Penn to 90 to 95 percent in Budapest.

``Here, we do about 75 percent stroke work and 25 percent freestyle,'' Szabo said of North Penn workouts. ``There, everyone has a specialty stroke and they work on it. I was in with eight or nine breaststrokers. On my high school team, there are three or four.''

At first, all of this was overwhelming to the foreigner, who is fifth in the United States in his age group in the 100-yard breaststroke. To complicate matters, he had a girlfriend and he was sometimes late for practice.

After about a week and a half there, Szabo figured that he would either sink or swim. He decided to swim, hard.

``In the beginning, I thought I'd never make the sets they were giving me,'' he said. ``At the end, I was actually leading in the lane.''

Furthermore, he received some useful tips from Nagy on what he was doing wrong in the wave stroke, which is more of an up-and-down motion than the flat American stroke. Szabo, who started practicing the stroke at about age 10, learned from Nagy that his kick was incorrect, his hands were in the wrong position, and his hips were too low in the water.

The 6-foot, 165-pound swimmer first saw the wave stroke when his father, Joseph, a former breaststroker from Hungary, showed him a videotape of American Mike Barrowman. Coached by Nagy, Barrowman holds the world record in the 200-meter breaststroke, 2 minutes, 10 seconds. Not even Rozsa, who won the 1996 Olympic 200-meter breaststroke in 2:12.57 with the wave stroke, has been able to duplicate Barrowman's time.

The experience of training with Rozsa as well as the highly motivated teens under the keen eye of Nagy has had a positive impact on Szabo.

``I'm a better swimmer,'' Szabo said. ``It changed my work ethic. I want to work harder for what I want to achieve. I hope to make the Olympic trials in the year 2000.''

Szabo took the first step toward his goal at the U.S. Summer Junior Nationals in August in Buffalo, N.Y. He was so successful that he was angry.

Szabo shaved more than 11 seconds off his best time in the 200-meter breaststroke when he was clocked in 2:25. The problem was that he did it in time trials only, because he had failed to qualify for the race earlier in the year.

``I was not allowed to compete,'' said Szabo, who had swum the event competitively only five times. ``I was pretty mad. I beat the qualifying time by four seconds.''

However, he did compete in the 100-meter breaststroke, in which he registered a 1:07.2 for seventh place. His previous best time in the event had been 1:09.99. He dreams about swimming both events in the Olympics.

But for now, he will concentrate on improving in the 100-yard breaststroke in high school. His best time in the event (56.98) was recorded at the District 1 Class AAA meet in March when he was a sophomore at North Penn. He placed second to Haverford High's Brendan Hansen, who won in 55.93. A tired Szabo swam slower at states (58.55) and placed third.

North Penn coach Bill Bartle is impressed with the results of his top breaststroker's overseas training as well as his improved work ethic. A hard-working team, the Knights have won the state team championship the last two years.

Joseph Szabo is also pleased with the outcome of his youngest son's hard work in Hungary.

And Dominick Szabo wouldn't mind spending another birthday in Budapest.

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