In 1991, Laszlo Latorovszki received an invitation to move from Hungary to Waverley, Nova Scotia to create a year-round training program at the Cheema Aquatic Club.
The then-35-year-old assistant paddling coach left his native Hungary with his family and only two suitcases to arrive at Lake Thomas during winter. Essentially starting from scratch, he took what was previously a summer paddling club and turned it into the gold standard for Canadian canoe/kayak athletes, churning out a steady stream of world championship competitors and Olympic athletes.
After only three years at the helm of Cheema, Latorovszki—known affectionately as “Csom”— was recognized as Nova Scotia’s Amateur Coach of the Year at the annual Moosehead Sports Awards. Cheema had finished fifth at club nationals while placing seven paddlers on elite teams, including sending six athletes to the 1993 Canada Games, and Hall of Famer Karen Furneaux to World Junior competition. The club then went on to win the next three consecutive Canoe Kayak Canada Championship Burgees (title for most accumulated points at the national championship).
Furneaux, who is a three-time Olympian and two-time World Champion, describes Csom as the “Yoda” of kayaking and canoeing: “He was an athlete himself in canoeing, competed at the National level in Hungary which is a very high level. He’s just a constant learner, so he studies the sport, he studies individuals and how they move, to optimize their movement patterns.”
Latorovszki has trained and personally coached nine athletes through six Olympic Games, and served as national coach at four of those Olympics. Those Olympic coaching efforts have produced 11 medals for Canadian paddlers. At World Cup competition, athletes coached by Latorovszki has won well over 100 medals. In addition to Furneaux, two more of those athletes are also Hall of Famers—Olympians and World Championship medal-winners Michael Scarola and Richard Dalton.
“We’d train two or three times a day, six days a week, eleven months of the year,” says Scarola. “Csom never missed a practice, I was with him for 10 years and he never missed a practice, and he came down to our canoe club every single day and he had the most passion of anyone there. He often brought the energy for us, when we would be down, we would be tired, Csom always had a positive attitude.”
“His knowledge, his energy, his enthusiasm, and his willingness to step in and push your limits was something I don’t think we had in the division,” adds Dalton.
Latorovszki will never forget the first practice he coached at Cheema, at which there were only eight kids. When he asked where the others were, he was given a long list of sports that were believed to be more popular for kids at that time. He was confident that he could create better training than those other sports, and that the number of athletes would grow with each practice. That confidence was well-earned.
“The amount of work, the amount of sheer work that we all did, kind of outclassed what other clubs and other training groups were doing at the time,” says Furneaux. “So it was kind of beyond the research and the training that was going on at the time in other clubs.”
“It’s an individual sport, but they work on a team together,” says Latorovszki about the Cheema Club. “Everybody contributes something to the team, and, without them, we would have never reached this level.”
Fellow paddling builder inductee and Cheema’s first head coach, Frank Garner explains that not all athletes could handle the intensity of Latorovszki’s training program: “He tells them up front, this is a tough program, it’s a tough sport, it really is – our best athletes are our toughest athletes, both mentally and physically.”
To this day, those that persevered are thankful they did.
“I think he’s the greatest coach that’s ever lived in my experience with coaches,” says Furneaux. “I think he’s one in a million. He is just so positive, so encouraging, so inspiring.”
“He gave more than he took, and I think good coaches do that, they give,” says Garner. “He doesn’t look for rewards, they come; they come just because he’s good.”
One such reward was presented to Latorovszki at the 2022 Cheema Community Fest, when a section of the newly expanded Cheema Boathouse was dedicated as the “Laszlo ‘Csom’ Latorovszki Fitness Centre”—a great honour considering when Latorovszki arrived to lead the club, the facilities consisted of an unheated hut with no washrooms.
“He has inspired so many athletes to reach their potential,” says Scarola. “And more importantly, he’s inspired so many coaches to go on and build their clubs and train great athletes who have gone on to have successful lives. It’s just incredible what he has done—this guy is a builder.”
Always looking to improve himself and push Cheema’s athletes to a higher level of competition, Latorovszki maintains the following outlook:
“[Today’s kids] don’t care how good a coach I was 20, 30, 40 years ago; they are looking for how good a coach I am today and tomorrow.”
Latorovszki was presented with the Gold Cross of Merit of Hungary by the Hungarian Ambassador at a ceremony held at Cheema this September.
Hometown: Waverley, N.S.
- Developed and coached nine Olympians, including Hall of Famers Karen Furneaux, Michael Scarola, and Richard Dalton
- Led the Cheema Aquatic Club to three consecutive national titles (for most accumulated points at the national championship) between 1994 and 1996
- Coached Team Canada at four Olympic Games (2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012)
- Canada’s longest serving national women’s kayak coach (13 Senior World Championship seasons)
- Coached Canadian athletes to 11 Olympic medals and more than 100 medals at World Cup competitions
- Sport Nova Scotia Ricoh Coach of the Year, 2012
Cover photo courtesy of The Chronicle Herald