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Hungarian Time Travel Back to the Beginning of the Olympic Games

Zsófia Nagy-Vargha 2021.07.23.

Hungary participated in the Olympic Games for the first time in 1896 and has been involved in almost every Olympics since. The first exception was in 1920, when Hungary, as one of the losers of the First World War, wasn’t invited. Although Budapest was supposed to host the Olympics that year, this honor was transferred to Antwerp due to the defeat in the war. Hungary was also absent from the 1984 Games: after the USA and some of its allies boycotted the 1980 Games in Moscow, Hungary, together with several other socialist countries, joined the Soviet Union and renounced their participation from the Games held in Los Angeles. In the history of the Olympics, after Finland, Hungary has won the most medals per capita to date. And Hungary is the most successful country in the summer Olympics yet to host the event. Take a trip back in time with us, with the help of Fortepan‘s photos!

Hungary appeared at the very first Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece in 1896, with a delegation of a mere seven athletes. Since the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I did not attach any significant importance to the project, they didn’t enjoy any official state support. In addition, the delegation was also a multicultural one due to Hungary’s “colorful state.”

Still, Hungary won its first gold medal: namely, Alfréd Hajós won the first Olympic medal for swimming of modern times in the 100-meter freestyle and the first Olympic gold medal for his home country.

1936, Berlin.

Hungary participated in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin with 209 athletes (191 men and eighteen women) in 101 competitions in twenty sports. The Hungarian team then claimed 10 gold, 1 silver, and 5 bronze medals, coming in third according to the IOC ranking system (sorted by number of gold medals won, followed by the number of silver and bronze medals), ahead of Italy, and after the USA and the German Empire.

Imre Mándi, five-time Hungarian champion, Berlin’s boxing Olympic champion. Photo: Tibor Erky-Nagy/Fortepan.

Olympic sites in the German capital

Most of the competitions took place on the “Reichssportfeld,” with the Olympic Stadium being the central arena. With 49 participating nations and 3,961 athletes, the Olympics set a record in participation.

Image by Gyula Kieselbach/Fortepan

Image by Gyula Kieselbach/Fortepan

Image by Gyula Kieselbach/Fortepan

Image by Károly Vass/Fortepan

… And this was Budapest before the Games. Mária Dukesz runs with the Berlin Olympic flame. Image by Csaba Dr. Varga/Fortepan.

Nazi salute among the fans. History has often left its mark on the Olympic Games….

Hungarian fans in Berlin. They might have been rooting for our saber team, who later won the gold medal.

Time jump to the year 1948, London.

Hungary arrived to London with a delegation of 128 athletes, competing in 76 events in 15 sports. Hungarian athletes won ten gold, five silver, and twelve bronze medals.

Hammer thrower Imre Németh, long jumper Olga Gyarmati, boxers Tibor Csík in the bantamweight and László Papp in the middleweight, sport shooter Károly Takács with the rapid fire pistol, freestyle wrestler Gyula Bóbis in heavyweight, gymnast Ferenc Pataki on floor, fencers Aladár Gerevich with saber and Ilona Elek with foil, and the men’s saber fencing team emerged as Olympic champions.

Boxer Tibor Csík with his medals after London.

Photo: Morvay Kinga/Fortepan

László Papp, three-time Olympic champion in boxing. Photo was taken in a garage on the corner of Lehel and Dévai Streets in Budapest.

Image by Márton Ernő  Kovács/Fortepan

Ágnes Keleti, Olympic champion in gymnastics. Photo by Ernő Márton Kovács/Fortepan. She celebrated her 100th birthday at the beginning of 2021 🙂

Ágnes Keleti, Oldest Living Olympic Champion Turns 100
Ágnes Keleti, Oldest Living Olympic Champion Turns 100

Five-time Olympic champion, Hungarian gymnast Ágnes Keleti, reached her 100th birthday. Not only one of the most successful Hungarian athletes, she is the oldest living Olympic champion who also had a great part in the development of Israeli gymnastics following her emigration. She started gymnastics at the age of four and soon established her name […]Continue reading

Helsinki, 1952.

Helsinki was also a glorious Olympics for Hungary in terms of medal numbers. Hungarian athletes claimed 16 gold, 10 silver, and 16 bronze medals, putting the country in third place at the medal table.

We were even able to bring home the gold medal in football. Members of the national team were:

József Bozsik, László Budai, Jenő Buzánszky, Lajos Csordás, Zoltán Czibor, Jenő Dalnoki, Gyula Grosics, Nándor Hidegkuti, Sándor Kocsis, Imre Kovács, Mihály Lantos, Gyula Lóránt, Péter Palotás, Ferenc Puskás, and József Zakariás.

Hungary defeated Yugoslavia 2-0 in the final, becoming the first ever Eastern European team to win the Olympic Games, and their dominance defined Olympic football tournaments until 1980.

Image by Kovács József/Fortepan

Ilona Novák, Kató Szőke, Éva Novák, and Judit Temes are the members of the winning women’s 4×100 m freestyle relay team. Image by Imre Sárosi/Fortepan

… Even Mátyás Rákosi paid a visit to the Tata training camp before the competition to see our athletes.

Photo: Horváth Lajos/Fortepan

Olympic boxing champion László Papp and Olympic wrestling champion Miklós Szilvásy on a boat trip during the XV Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki.

Image by Sándor Bojár/Fortepan

József Csermák, Olympic champion in the hammer throw.

Image by Sándor Bojár/Fortepan

The Hungarian national anthem is being played in Helsinki. Announcements of the results of the women’s 400 m freestyle, silver medal for Éva Novák, gold medal for Valéria Gyenge, bronze medal for Evelyn Kawamoto (USA).

Dutch Hannie Termeulen is on the left, silver medalist in 100m freestyle. On the right is two-time Olympic champion Kató Szőke, gold medalist 🙂 Images by Sándor Bojár/Fortepan.

The Olympic champion water polo team: in the foreground are György Kárpáti, István Szívós; in the background Dezső Gyarmati, György Vizvári, Antal Bolvári, László Jeney, and Kálmán Markovits.

And we are already on our way to the next Olympic Games in Melbourne.

The photo was taken at the railway station during the delegation’s farewell ceremony to travel via Prague/Vienna to the XVI Summer Olympic Games in Melbourne.

Image by Imre Sárosi/Fortepan

Sixty-seven nations were due to compete in Melbourne. Due to the political events of 1956 including the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Revolution, several countries (e.g. the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland) canceled their participation, however, Hungarian athletes were there. They won nine gold, ten silver, and seven bronze medals.

Interesting facts

  • Hungarian gymnast Ágnes Keleti and Soviet gymnast Larisa Latinyina showed the best performance at the Olympics, both having won three individual titles and one team title.
  • László Papp claimed his third Olympic gold medal in boxing.
  • The water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, which the Hungarian team won 4:0, became known as the Olympic bloodbath. The “Melbourne bloodbath” has become the most famous clash in water polo history, played just a month after the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. The event was accompanied by emotional displays in the pool and in the spectator area due to the universally-known turbulent political history.

Tokyo, 1964.

Let’s jump back in time once again to 1964, when all the eyes and ears of Budapest were upon Tokyo. That was the year when the Japanese capital hosted the Games for the last time until now in 2021.

Central switching station of Hungarian state television MTV.

Image by Tibor Valkó/Fortepan

Accommodation of the Hungarian team:

Image by Jószef Csőke/Fortepan.

Hungarian athletes won ten gold, seven silver, and four bronze medals in Tokyo, enough for 6th place at the medal table. Fencers Tibor Pézsa in sabre singles and Ildikó Rejtő in foil singles, pentathlete Ferenc Török in singles, sports shooter László Hammerl in 50m rifle prone, Greco-Roman wrestlers Imre Polyák in featherweight and István Kozma in heavyweight, the women’s foil fencing team as well as the epee fencing team, men’s water polo team and men’s football team became Olympic champions. Javelin thrower, Gergely Kulcsár, was chosen as Hungary’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

Photo: Magyar Hírek folyóirat/Fortepan

Mexico City, 1968.

The Hungarian delegation returned from Mexico with a total of 32 medals: our athletes won ten gold, ten silver, and twelve bronze medals. Gyula Zsivótzky in hammer throw, Angéla Németh in javelin throw, Greco-Roman wrestlers János Varga in bantamweight and István Kozma in heavyweight, canoeists Mihály Hesz in the single 1000 meter kayak and Tibor Tatai in 1000m single, fencer Győző Kulcsár in sabre singles, the men’s epee fencing team, pentathletes András Balczó, István Móna, and Ferenc Török in the team competition, and the men’s football team had the chance to step up on the highest level of the podium. Gergely Kulcsár was chosen to be the opening ceremony’s flag bearer once again.

Image by Éva Romák/Fortepan

Image by Éva Romák/Fortepan

In 1972, Hungarian athletes were due to travel to Munich. The following pictures were taken at Liszt Ferenc International Airport:

Image by Sándor Bojár/Fortepan

Munich Olympic Park

The Games were overshadowed by the terrorist attack on September 5, 1972, when eleven Israeli athletes were first taken hostage, then murdered. The Games nevertheless went on after a day of mourning.

Fortepan / Ágnes Vészi

Opening Ceremony

With 121 participating nations and 7,170 athletes, the Munich Games set a new record.

Image by Éva Romák/Fortepan

Hungary finished eighth at the medal table.

Montreal, 1972.

The Hungarian team counted 178 athletes (124 men and 54 women) at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, in 109 competitions in 17 sports. Hungarian athletes won four gold, five silver, and 13 bronze medals.

Hungarian gymnast, Zoltán Magyar, won three World Championships and three European Championships in pommel horse during his career. He participated at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, in 1976 in Montreal, and in 1980 in Moscow. In both 1976 and 1980 he won gold medals in this discipline.

Magyar had two moves named after him: the Magyar spindle (turning the body in the opposite direction from circling legs) and the Magyar travel (crosswise circling travel down the horse).

Fortepan / Magyar Hírek folyóirat

Moscow, 1980.

Hungarian athletes claimed seven gold, ten silver, and 15 bronze medals in the Russian capital. Olympic champions included gymnast Zoltán Magyar on pommel horse, weightlifter Péter Baczakó in middle heavyweight, and wrestler Norbert Növényi in light heavyweight. (Images: Béla Szalay/Fortepan)

The success stories do not end here of course, but Fortepan only lets us trace back through the Olympic Games until 1990. The last photo portrays Krisztina Egerszegi, one of the most successful sportswomen of Hungary.

At the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, she won the 200 m backstroke at the age of 14, emerging as the youngest gold medalist in swimming at the Olympic Games.

Photo: Fortepan / Tamás Urbán

Follow the Tokyo Olympics with us! This year we have 173 Hungarian athletes to root for!