Nine-time World Champion, three-time European Champion, iconic canoeist Tamás Wichmann, who also managed to stand on the Olympic podium three times, has died at the age of 72, following a long and painful illness.
Wichmann started off his career at the age of 12, after he had been hit by a police car, which caused him a severe hip injury and was in a coma for days. He soon emerged as one of the most successful canoeists, and also became one of the most popular and loved sportsmen of Hungary. Besides winning the Hungarian championships 37 times, he is also a 3-time European and 9-time World Champion.
At the Olympics, however, he never had luck and fell each time a little short of eventually becoming a champion. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, together with his partner Gyula Petrikovics, they came in 2nd, only slightly beaten by the Romanians.
Four years later, in Munich, he lost to long-time rival (and friend), Romanian canoeist Ivan Patzaichin after the final had been delayed by two days due to a terror attack, and held in less favorable weather conditions for Wichmann. In Montréal in 1976, he came in third, while he gave up the competition at the 1980 Moscow Olympics after arriving there once again as a favorite. He said in many interviews that failing to win the Olympic gold was always hard for him to accept and made him think a lot. His injured hip always caused him hardships as well.
Wichmann (r) is being interviewed. Image by Fortepan/Rádió És Televízió Újság
In 1979, he had been decorated with the UNESCO’s fair play award for helping the preparation of his rival Matija Ljubek to the World Championships, where the Croatian (Yugoslavian at that time) eventually beat him in the final.
Following his sports career, he decided to open a pub on the corner of Király and Kazinczy streets in the 7th district, well ahead of the party district boom. The “Wichmann” soon became a popular, cult-like place of the Budapest nightlife with its cheap tap beer and trademark wiener-schnitzel sandwich. He only decided to sell it in 2018.
In 2017, he was diagnosed with cancer that reportedly caused him severe pain and suffering. A few days ago, in one of his last interviews, he said that
“there is no heaven, no other world, fate only gave us as much as we spent here on Earth. This is what you have to fill up with experiences, unforgettable moments, and then, farewell is easier. I was given this much. Successful sports career, peaceful, loving private life. I have no sense of lack.”
featured image via MTI/Tibor Illyés