Olympic swimmers look to lead ASU to a successful season
Among the talented ASU swimming and diving team are two swimmers who stand out because of a unique experience — competing in the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Sophomore Richard Bohus and freshman Ivana Ninkovic are two foreign-born swimmers who are now Sun Devils after swimming in the biggest sporting event in the world and earning the label of “Olympic athletes” by representing their respective countries.
Bohus, 21, was born in the small town of Békéscsaba in Hungary and started swimming when he was 4.
Bohus, a backstroke specialist, qualified for the 2012 Olympics with a 50 Backstroke time of 54.35, good enough for third among European swimmers and fourth in the world.
“I was always motivated to show everyone that I could make it regardless of where I grew up or how small my town was,” he said.
Growing up in a small country that gained little exposure, the Olympic atmosphere during swimming events was far from anything he had ever experienced.
“Swimming isn’t nearly the most popular sport in the world, so we never have a big audience,” Bohus said. “Going from swimming with a few people watching to swimming with 26,000 people watching was unreal — it was a huge adjustment.”
Bohus, who was 19 when he competed in the London games, said the crowd was so loud that swimmers were given a new accessory to wear during events in London.
“We usually wear regular ear plugs, but for the Olympics, we were given noise-canceling ear plugs to help block out the crowd,” he said, laughing.
During the Olympics, Bohus was scheduled to swim the 100 backstroke and 4x100 relay, but plans quickly changed when the Hungarian national coach came to his room at 1 a.m. to tell him he was being replaced in the relay race.
“I was shocked and angry, because he gave me no reason as to why I was being replaced,” he said.
Although he was down about the decision, he swam the 100 backstroke and stayed positive during the remainder of his experience at the Olympics.
“I had to keep reminding myself that I was still at the Olympics, which is every athlete’s dream,” Bohus said. “Overall, it was the greatest experience of my life because I gained a lot of knowledge about life as well as swimming.”
Now a digital culture sophomore at ASU, he is transitioning to American life well, but still notices a few differences between the U.S. and Hungary.
“At home, people are pessimistic but trustworthy, and I feel as if it’s a bit of the opposite here in America in some spots,” Bohus said.
He also said he loves the Arizona weather.
“At home, it’s probably still cold and snowy,” Bohus said. “However, this weather is perfect for swimming.”
During the start of his freshman season, Bohus set the ASU record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 47.16
“I don’t think it was my best time, so I’m still looking to improve it,” he said.
However, in January 2014, his season ended two months early when he severely injured his shoulder, which required surgery and screws placed in it to repair.
“It was difficult, and I went crazy, because I couldn’t swim for such a long time,” he said.
Bohus had surgery in June and said his doctor thinks he will be out until April or May, but the Olympic swimmer has other ideas.
“I want to be out there swimming with my team because we are fast, but short-handed,” he said. “I want to be able to help them out when it comes time to compete in the Pac-12 Championships in March.”
Although he is enjoying his major, he said his swimming goals are still his main priority.
“I have been talking to my mom a lot about balancing swimming with my studies,” Bohus said. “I feel like I can study later, but there will come a time where I won’t be able to swim like I can now.”
As of now, his focus is on swimming for ASU, but Bohus wants to make a run at qualifying for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and competing for Hungary.
On the women’s side, freshman Ivana Ninkovic was born in Trebinje, Bosnia-Herzegovina and started swimming at 6, but never envisioned competing in the Olympics for her home country.
“My doctor suggested swimming because I had a problem with my lungs, and it was one of the only sports I could participate in,” she said. “I used to swim for fun, but now I view it as a profession.”
Ninkovic, who competed in the 500 breaststroke at the Olympics, said she remained calm and collected throughout her events.
“Although I had butterflies because it was the biggest competition I’ve ever swam in, I had competed in a few big competitions throughout my life so it wasn’t too bad,” she said.
Although she thought she could have performed better, she said it was the experience that counted.
“I didn’t swim my best time, but it was amazing being around my idols and some of the best swimmers in the world, and feeling special because I was an Olympic athlete,” she said. “It’s impossible to put into words.”
Ninkovic said her transition to life as a Sun Devil swimmer has been fairly easy because everyone on the team is so helpful, making for a positive experience.
“My teammates here at ASU have made me feel like I’m truly part of the team, something that I’ve never really felt before,” Ninkovic said. “Coming here is the best decision I’ve ever made.”
However, Ninkovic also noted one minor struggle — time management.
"I am very busy with swimming and school now so I have to organize my busy schedule, but it’s not too bad,” she said.
On the academic side, she is an engineering management major and said she values education just as much as swimming.
“It’s a difficult major, but I know it will take me further than swimming — as much as I love swimming, I will need an education to get a good job someday,” Ninkovic said.
Looking ahead, Ninkovic said her goal is to compete and post a great result at the Pac-12 championships in February.
“I’m still adapting to the team and my events, but I know I need to keep practicing hard and continue improving my times before the end of the season,” she said.
After the season, Ninkovic is looking forward to competing in the World Championships in Russia in hopes of qualifying for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics and representing Bosnia once again.
Reach the reporter at Justin.Toscano@asu.edu or on Twitter @justintoscano3