polos hombre ralph lauren Raw Emotion And Spilled Blood of ’56
There was blood in the water, and it was Hungarian. That much Laszlo Ujvary could categorically confirm. He remembered that it was his friend, Ervin Zador, who was hit, and cut. “Right over here,” Ujvary said, patting the spot above his eye.
And while Ujvary was also certain that hostilities ran deep and punches were thrown, he was not about to exaggerate for the sake of a four decade old yarn. “You know,” he said, “a little blood in the water very soon makes a lot.”
Forty years ago in Melbourne, Australia, Ujvary was one of Hungary’s Olympic divers, watching with the rest of that country’s delegation as it took a measure of spiritual revenge for unspeakable horrors perpetrated by Soviets back home.
Weeks after 200,000 troops invaded Budapest in the fall of 1956 to crush an anti Soviet uprising, the two countries collided in a water polo match that would become one of those lightning rod Olympic events, electric with long lasting political fallout. Hungary, the eventual gold medalist, emerged the winner, 4 0, but not before a brawl broke out, and the match was prematurely called.
“That year,” Ujvary said, in determined Euro english, “very, very hard feelings.”
From nearby the water polo pool today at the Georgia Tech Aquatics Center, Ujvary could look at Hungarians engaging Russians once again, but this time see only a game, only a thrilling rally by Hungary from three goals behind in the third period for an 8 7 victory. He is 61 years old, bald and stout, a physical therapist for another gold medal contending Hungarian team, and Soviet puppet Communists no longer manipulate his world. Not the way he recalled as he gazed at the pool, and back through the years.
Ujvary did not win a medal in Melbourne, nor did he go home. His sister had emigrated to the United States a couple of years before. “Cliffside Park in New Jersey,” he said. So that’s where he went, for a year and a half, until the letter from Budapest arrived, from the very government he had successfully fled.
“They say, ‘Leslie, come home, no problem for you,’ ” Ujvary said, using his nickname.
He was only 22 years old, and he missed his family, his country, his calling. He wanted to dive. He thought he could win.
“So what can I say?” he said. “I am crazy. I go home.”
In 1958, the European championships happened to be in Budapest, and the Soviet satellite regime of Imre Nagy was happy to have Ujvary compete. He won a gold medal. He believed he had paid his dues, and was back in good standing. He trained hard for the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.
“I compete in all the meets,” he said. “Then comes 1960 and the government no like me again. They say, ‘Leslie, we are sending someone else.’ ” He still dived again after that, in meets as far away as China. Before long, another Olympiad was growing near. Ujvary would not make it to Tokyo in 1964, either.
“This time they say: ‘You are too old. Leslie,
you are finished,’ ” he said. He went to work as a physical therapist in an orthopedics hospital, and, with the passing of time and the Soviet bloc, eventually worked his way back to the Olympics.
Newsletter Sign Up
Here at the Centennial Games, the 1995 world champion Hungarians are seeking their seventh gold medal in a sport that may look soothingly refreshing from Atlanta’s searing heat but is often brutally aggressive down below. The first Hungarian gold medal in water polo came in 1932, in Los Angeles. The last came at Montreal in 1976, a team whose roster included the current group’s head coach, Gyorgy Horkai.
In Hungary, water polo, according to Horkai, ranks behind only soccer in team sport popularity. The tradition began in the 1930’s, escalated dramatically in 1956 and became almost too burdensome for the national team after 1976. “That team won everything from 1973 to 1979,” Horkai said. “It was so good that the second player at each position was a great player. But then, people in Hungary expected first place every time. Nothing was good anymore except first place.”
Horkai, 42, was a toddler when the Soviets rolled into Budapest, when Ervin Zador’s blood was spilled in the Melbourne pool. On the one hand, Horkai said that water polo players have engaged in their fair share of nonpolitical and bloody scrapes. On the other, just in the last couple of weeks, he has brushed up on his 1956 history, and realized how volatile that particular match really was.
An autobiography by Dezso Gyarmati, the star of the 1956 team, a three time gold medal winner and Jordanesque figure in Hungary, was released there just this month, timed perfectly for the Games. “What Gyarmati said in the book was that the Russians did not come to shoot, they came to do this,” said Horkai, making a fist with his right hand and punching the palm of his left. Then he recited a natural title, unwittingly borrowing from Red Smith’s renowned newspaper account.
“Blood in the water,” Horkai said.
For him, the story of 1956 still comes from a page, not from the heart. “We don’t want to think about that,” he said of his team. “It is not our generation. It is a different world.”
Let Croatia and Yugoslavia, in opposite brackets but possible medal round opponents, be drawn into highly charged conflict. There are too many improved teams now, including the United States, for Horkai to worry about settling 40 year old feuds. He had no ax to grind with Russia or any other former Soviet republics today.
Nor did Ujvary, who danced with joy after Russian goalie Nikolai Maximov inexplicably roamed too far from his net and was victimized by a long, loping tie breaking shot by 20 year old Tamas Kasas with 8.2 seconds left.
“Just sport,” said Ujvary, though he has not forgotten 1956, and never will. He was there. He has long since realized that the Soviet players in Melbourne weren’t the real enemy, that their emotions were twisted and tugged just like his countrymen and women, down in the pool and up in the stands. They were sportsmen turned symbols, but from those events there can be no escape.
“Yes, yes,” he said, when asked if he, on the subject of 1956 and those subsequent years, would forever see red. No matter how much blood there actually was.
Correction: July 26, 1996, Friday A sports article on Sunday about the Olympic water polo rivalry between Hungary and Russia misidentified the leader of the Soviet backed Hungarian regime in 1958. He was Janos Kadar. Imre Nagy, his predecessor,
was removed from power in 1956 and hanged two years later.