Legendary three-time Olympic champion and water polo coach Tibor Benedek died today at the age of 47, the Hungarian Waterpolo Federation said in a statement. Back in May, Benedek suddenly announced that he would leave water polo behind. The iconic sportsman had not disclosed any particular reason, but explained his decision was due to private matters.
Tibor Benedek, who is considered one of the best water polo players ever and arguably the best left-handed player ever, was part of the Hungarian national team, the Golden Team, that emerged as Olympic champion three times in a row (in 2000, 2004, and 2008). This includes a European and World Championship crown. In addition, after having retired from playing, from 2013 he also coached the national team and led it once again to clinch the World Championship title in his first year at charge.
2016, European Championships (Szilárd Koszticsák/MTI)
He started swimming as a child when he was taken to the pool on medical advice because he had a spinal hernia at the age of eight, but he didn’t like swimming- water polo attracted him more. Later, he made the junior team, then debuted in the adult team at the 1991 World Cup. At that tournament, at the age of 19, he won a World Cup bronze medal.
A year later, he was already an Olympian and by 1996 he had become a leading figure of the team. He became European Champion with the national team in Seville in 1997. Two years later, he could not participate in Florence at the European Championships due to a ban, but later, he became a three-time Olympic champion with the legendary Hungarian team of the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Summer Olympic Games. At the time of the 2004 title defense, he was already in charge as team captain, but after that he temporarily resigned from the national team due to a heart condition. He returned in 2007, a year before winning his third Olympic gold medal.
2017, Millennium – Pallanuoto Milano A.S. Dilett Masters match in Budapest. (Balázs Czagány/MTI)
From 2013 until the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio, he was national coach of the Hungarian men’s water polo team.
Dénes Kemény, who was already president at the time, called it his best decision to hand over control to Benedek at the time, saying he also made a difference in the final, adding that to this day he remembers what the coach said: “I felt that there was a force hiding in them that was above all, leading us to the point that we wanted this success the most, which never needs to be explained.”
2013, Barcelona, World Championships (photo: Anikó Kovács/MTI)
Benedek departed after the disappointing results of the Rio Olympics in 2016.
In 2019, the water polo player, considered the best left-handed player in the world, described himself in the following way:
I never had a particularly good ball sense, I never played football or basketball well, I didn’t throw particularly long shots with the ball, and I throw even shorter today. I’m not particularly strong or smart, I don’t swim too well, and my water level is completely average.
He continued by describing how he had suffered from illnesses and was banned by doctors from the pool, but he kept on playing despite his heart condition and several injuries. He said, if he had to sum up the reason for his success, he would say:
Featured photo: Balázs Czagány/MTI