Gyarmati, Deszo : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Gyarmati, Deszo

water polo

Country Represented:

Years Competed:
1948, 1952, 1956, 1960, 1964

Medals Received:
gold, silver, bronze

Olympic Info:
Considered by many experts to be the greatest water polo player of all-time, Gyarmati competed for the Hungarian Olympic team from 1948-1960. Deszo won the silver medal in men's water polo at the 1948 Olympics. He was also the captain of the Hungarian gold medal team in water polo at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics, and helped Hungary win the bronze at the 1960 Games and the gold at the 1964 Games.

At the 1956 Olympics, an infamous match between Hungary and the Soviet Union took place as the two nations faced off in the semi-finals. One month prior to the Games, Soviet troops had invaded Hungary and suppressed an anti-Communist rebellion. With the Hungarians leading 4-0, the match was stopped, having metamorphosed into a battleground, with players brawling and bloodied. The Swedish referee said later that he had stopped the game because it had come to resemble an underwater boxing match. There was blood in the water, and some of the players had bloody noses, cut lips and eyebrows. Deszo had scored the first goal of the game and elicited cheers from pro-Hungary supporters when he caught a Russian on the chin with his wind-up on the goal.

In 1956, Gyarmati and his wife Eva Szekely (who was one of Hungary's top swimmers) left for the Melbourne Olympics during the first days of the Hungarian revolt against Communism. At the Olympics, the only news they received was that Budapest had been devastated by the Soviets and people were being shot. They did not find out that their two-year old daughter and parents were safe until after they had competed -- Deszo won the gold and Eva won a silver in the 200-meter backstroke.

In 1957, the Russian puppet government learned that Deszo and Eva were planning to defect. In February, four men dragged Deszo to an abandoned building and beat him to a bloody pulp, leaving him for dead. He survived, and with his wife used forged passports to flee the country with their daughter. They originally emigrated to the United States but then went to Italy before returning to Hungary in 1958 because they were concerned about Eva's parents (who remained in Hungary). Eva retired from competition when they returned to Hungary, although Deszo continued to compete for the national water polo team. At the 1972 Munich Olympics, their daughter Andrea Gyarmati won the silver medal in the 110-meter backstroke and the bronze medal in the 100-meter butterfly.

Career Highlights:
One of the world's greatest waterpolo players, the ambidextrous Gyarmati could play at back as well as forward with equal skill. The veteran of over 100 international matches, Deszo helped Hungary dominate water polo during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. He was a member of one world championship team, three European championship teams, and ten Hungarian national championship teams! In 1965 Britain's World Sport wrote: "Had Gyarmati played soccer instead (of water polo), he probably would have been knighted, even though he comes from Hungary..." In 1976, he was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. Oct. 23, 1927


Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.

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Great Jews in Sports by Robert Slater (New York: Jonathan David Publishers, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Olympic Games: Athens 1896-Sydney 2000, (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)