In 2007, senior Balazs Molnar became the first Notre Dame athlete to win the BIG EAST 400-meter hurdles title.

Abroad In America

Feb. 4, 2010

By Kelly Taylor
Sports Information Student Assistant

Shedding new light on the idea of “studying abroad,” Notre Dame track student-athletes Balazs Molnar and Miklos Szebeny have covered the distance – from home, that is. Molnar, a senior from Dunaujvaros, Hungary, and Szebeny, a junior from Telki, Hungary, traveled to the United States in search of an academically challenging, international experience. According to them, Notre Dame has offered them not only that, but so much more.

While in Hungary, both athletes competed well on a national level. Molnar won a pair of 2006 Hungarian national titles in the 400 meters and 400 hurdles, while Szebeny was the national champion in the 100 meters and 200 meters in both 2006 and 2007 in Hungary.

Molnar, a former child gymnast, and Szebeny, a previous swimmer and basketball player, each discovered their talent for running as they matured into their teen years. Molnar’s father, a track coach, nurtured his passion, while Szebeny’s mother, a former track runner, did the same.

According to Molnar, he had wanted to pursue his collegiate career in the United States from a young age. “I had always wanted to come to the U.S. and see what it was like,” Molnar said. “Coach Millar called me up while I was in Hungary and offered me a full scholarship to Notre Dame. I couldn’t turn it down.”

In terms of the language barrier, Molnar claims it all came down to practicing. “My English wasn’t the greatest, and it took me a while to adjust to the language during my first semester,” he said.

Szebeny, on the other hand, actually heard about the school from Molnar, his Hungarian National Team comrade at the time. “I was looking at a few other schools, along with some Ivy leagues, but I ultimately chose Notre Dame because I received a full scholarship and I had heard such great things about it,” Szebeny said.

Molnar claims that nerves and excitement collided when he initially arrived on campus. “We never visited Notre Dame before coming to move in during our first semester. I was very excited, and to be honest it was a little different than I expected, but in a good way,” Molnar said.

Szebeny noted that John Millar, the Irish associate head coach for sprinters, made an unprecedented effort to encourage his decision to attend Notre Dame. “Coach Millar visited us in Hungary while he was in Europe for the European Championships. He was really nice and made us feel a lot better about everything,” Szebeny said.

These standout sprinters maintained a friendship long before their arrival at college. Molnar, a 400 meter hurdles specialist and Szebeny, who focuses on the 100 meter and 200 meter events, never actually competed directly against each other in high school. However, they both ran on the same 4x400m relay for the Hungarian National Team.

Both athletes noticed recognizable differences between life in Hungary and life in the United States. In terms of education, Molnar noted that in the U.S., studying is done on a day-to-day basis, whereas in Hungary, it is done periodically at certain intervals of time.

According to Szebeny, he prefers the American approach. “American schools teach more applications to problems, where I think there is more memorization in Hungary,” he said.

Although homesickness appears to have fizzled over the years, both Molnar and Szebeny spend a limited amount of time in their native country. “We go home every winter break for Christmas and the New Year, so for three or four weeks,” Molnar said. “Then we go home after the outdoor BIG EAST or regional competition in June.” However, summer does not consist of leisurely days by the pool, either. “All summer we are training for the Hungarian National Team. It truly is a year-round commitment,” Szebeny said. “The traveling is my favorite part. We’ve traveled all around Europe to places like Spain and Norway. “

As if their stories couldn’t coincide any more than they do, both Molnar and Szebeny are finance majors in the Mendoza College of Business. However, they each hold unique reasons in support of this academic decision. “I picked finance because I was interested in the business world. I feel like you can make a lot of money and have a lot of different jobs with a degree in finance,” Molnar said.

Conversely, Szebeny is fully committed to the current global journey he has undertaken. “I chose finance because I think that will benefit me the most being from a foreign country,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs in international business and it’s a major that fits nicely with the whole international experience I’m going through.”

In terms of current goals for the season, Molnar and Szebeny are determined and focused to make them a reality. “I always have goals. I would like to win the BIG EAST in the outdoor 400-meter hurdles because I haven’t won since my freshman year,” he asserted. “I would also like to run a personal record in that event in order to qualify for nationals.” After graduation, Molnar hopes to be solely focused on competing well in European competition.

Szebeny, too, reflects on this season’s outlook. “Unfortunately, I have been injured for a couple months, so I just want to heal up,” Szebeny said. “I would love to win the BIG EAST and break my personal records in certain events as well.”

Molnar and Szebeny seem poised and ready to continue on with their international experience. Whether residing in their Hungarian hometowns or at the University of Notre Dame, their success on the track proves imminent.

— ND —