Rita Keszthelyi is a name well-known throughout the water polo community and her two goals to help Hungary to beat the Russian Olympic Committee 11-9 for the bronze medal at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games less than a year ago were typical of what she has achieved in the sport. The dynamic driving force capable of delivering goals from all over the pool, is competing at yet another FINA World Championships, this time at home and hoping to wipe away the despair of fifth place five years ago at the same venue — the famed Margaret Island — the crucible of the code.
If ever anyone had a target on her back, it would be Hungarian veteran Rita Keszthelyi.
She is the go-to person and while she has normally been a prolific goal-scorer, nowadays she is content at making the plays, gifting the scoring passes and generally being a huge threat in the water. Give her a centimetre and she will take a metre, as the expression goes.
With the FINA World Championships just weeks away, Keszthelyi is gearing up for yet another tilt at the gold medal, something that has evaded her at this level. Having played on the national team for 13 previous summers, she hopes that playing at home will provide something better than the bronze medal at Barcelona 2013 and a placing defiantly better than the fifth place the last time Budapest hosted the event in 2017. In Gwangju 2019, Hungary bowed to Australia in the bronze-medal encounter.
She’s been thereabouts with the team and the sole golden moment was European success at Belgrade 2016. She also has five bronzes with the best being the Tokyo 2020 medal and European bronzes at Eindhoven 2012, Budapest 2014 and Budapest 2020. She also has a FINA World League silver medal from the Athens 2021 Super Final.
That affinity with Budapest runs deep, starting in the sport at an early age. “I was 10 years old when I visited my first water polo practice at Margitsziget, in UTE (which is UVSE today).
“In my early years, I changed teams many times because I wanted to learn in the top teams, and from the top players, and also sometimes the club financial situations determined where I was going next. I have played for UVSE, Dunaújváros, Szentes, Osc, Honvéd and Catania. In the last eight years I have been playing for UVSE, which I think is my home. I am really proud of my team, because we have so many young talented players who have grown up this season.
Scoring Goals put the following questions to Keszthelyi:
Having already played three Olympics, how long do you hope to continue playing?
“I hope I will play on my fourth Olympics, as well. That’s my goal, to play one more time there, and help the team as much as I can. After that I will definitely finish my career.”
What do you like about playing water polo?
“I like to share the trainings with my teammates. It is always better to suffer together and help each other, than being alone. I like that my friends are from water polo; we share the same passion; we have many so many good memories. Water polo taught me so many things that you can’t learn in school, or in life.”
What do you do outside water polo?
“I like being with my dog and going on hunting courses with him. It is a huge relaxing programme for me. It’s really recharging.”
Describe playing for the national team (and how many matches?):
“I have never counted these things but, unfortunately I am at that age that we have been curious lately about this information. This is my 14th summer in the national team, and I have 301 games. Orsolya Takács has 318, maybe, and I would like to catch up to her.”
What are you best at in the water?
“I have never been able to answer this question. I always said this is a question which should be answered by other people. I think I am good at reading the game, react fast on the situations and make the right decisions.”
Who do you regard as your mentors/best playing friends?
“I had mentors, when I was very young and I played my first two seasons at OSC; I learned the most there. My favourite playing friends are Gabriella Szücs, Orsolya Takács, Dóra Csabai, Dóra Antal, Dóra Cigány and also it was fun to play with Maggie Steffens (USA). I like when players know each other’s thoughts from just a look.
How did Hungary react to your Tokyo bronze medal?
“People who love water polo were happy, but unfortunately the Olympics is not as popular as soccer. It would have been great to see the people on the street when the Olympic team came home from Tokyo, and celebrate together.”
How did you react?
“We achieved a huge thing, but we wouldn’t be athletes if this doesn’t motivate us to be better next time. I was very happy to have the bronze in my hand for this third try, and also, I was a little sad for not having the bronze sooner — in Rio (2016) or London (2012).
How is the team feeling with Budapest 2022 so close?
“Time feels short till the beginning. Everybody is concentrating and do their best. Our focus is on the group stage; we are going step by step, game by game.’
And then what now for Paris 2024 for the team?
“The time is very short till Paris; we only have 1.5 years till the last qualification possibilities and two years for the Games, which is way more less than the previous five-year period. This summer will be full with competitions, and we want to build in the new players to the team. I think we will have so many games to improve the team, which will be useful for us.”
To Rita and her team, good luck and may her ambition of making it to a fourth Olympic Games becomes a reality, so we can enjoy her talents a little longer.