Water polo

Hungary mourns the deaths of water polo greats Gyorgy Karpati and Tibor Benedek

The world of sport lost two triple Olympic champions: Hungarian water polo legends Gyorgy Karpati and Tibor Benedek. 

By Tuesday Gutierrez ·

Three-time Olympic water polo champion Gyorgy Karpati passed away at age 84, the Association of Immortal Hungarian Athletes announced on Wednesday (17 June).

Karpati was a water polo trailblazer having won three gold medals at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Tokyo 1964, all of which contributed to Hungary's record tally of nine golds medals in the Olympic Games.

He also won bronze at the Rome 1960 Games but Karpati is best known for being part of the Hungarian team that crushed the Soviet Union team at the Melbourne 1956 Games, which happened during the political upheaval between the two countries.

The semi-final match was coined as the "Blood water match" after Hungarian player Ervin Zador emerged with blood pouring under his eye. Amidst this rough play, the young Karpati scored a goal against the Soviets, with the Hungarian team ending the match at 4-0. Hungary went on to beat Yugoslavia 2-1 in the final.

Looking back at that famous match, Karpati told AP in 2002: "Now I have to admit that I’m convinced even the referee was pulling for us. We were from a small country battling the huge Soviet Goliath.”

In 2006, Karpati reaffirmed this again with the Chicago Tribune, "We shared a feeling that if we could beat the Russians, it would be a kind of payback, a psychological victory for Hungary."

Karpati was the last surviving member of that 12-member Hungarian squad.

Karpati was born in Budapest in 1935 and was a national swimming champion before switching to water polo at age 15. He was just 17 when he won gold at the 1952 Games.

His last Olympic appearance was at Tokyo 1964 where he played six matches helping his country earn its fifth gold medal in water polo.

After his retirement in 1964, Karpati earned his law degree but water polo still worked as a coach in Hungary and Australia. He was a staff member of the Hungarian team that went on to earn another gold victory at the Montreal 1976 Games.

With Hungary being a powerhouse in waterpolo, the death of Karpati, a legend in the sport, has been hugely felt across the country.

“The Pelé of waterpolo has left us,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on his Facebook page.

Tibor Benedek, who passed away on Thursday at age 47, had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and stepped down from his role as coach of Budapest club UVSE in May of this year citing personal reasons.

The Hungarian legend was considered to be one of the greatest water polo players of all time, having won three straight Olympic gold medals at Sydney 2000, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

After a hugely successful playing career that also included World Championship and European Championships golds, Benedek became head coach of the Hungary national team in 2013, leading them to a World Championship title in his first year in charge.

Benedek was the second highest scorer in Olympic history, with 65 goals. He was also the joint top scorer at the Barcelona 1992 games with 22 goals, and top scorer at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, with 19 goals. In total he competed in five Olympic Games - one of only nine water polo players in history to have done so.

The Hungarian Water Polo Federation announced Tibor Benedek's death with a post on its website, saying: "For his family, team mates, water polo society and fans he has left behind an incomprehensible void that cannot be filled."

FINA also payed tribute to the water polo great, calling him: "A role model for many for his work ethics, dedication and clear view on the game – Tibor Benedek will be badly missed by not only the Magyars but the entire world of water polo."