Hajos was the first-ever Olympic swimming champion, and the first Hungarian Olympic gold medalist when he won two gold medals at the 1896 Athens Olympics. He won his medals in the 100-meter freestyle (1:22.2), and the 1200-meter freestyle (18:22.2). At the 1896 Games, the swimming events were held in the Mediterranean Sea and the swimmers had to battle the elements as much as each other. The 18-year old Hajos won his two gold medals in extremely cold weather (the water temperature was about 50 degrees) with 12-foot waves crashing down on him. Before the 1200-meter race, he smeared his body with a half-inch thick layer of grease, but it proved to be of little protection. He confessed after winning the race that, "my will to live completely overcame my desire to win." While at a dinner honoring Olympic winners, the King of Greece asked Alfred where he had learned to swim so well. Hajos replied, "In the water."
Hajos later won the silver medal (top honors) at the 1924 Paris Olympics in the arts competition for architecture. He did not receive the gold medal because the French did not want to award it to a non-Frenchman. In 1953, the International Olympic Committee awarded him the Olympic diploma of merit.
Alfred began swimming at the age of 13 after his father drowned in the Danube River. He then took the name Hajos for his athletic career because it was an Hungarian name. In 1895, Hajos won the 100-meter freestyle Hungarian (1:25.6) and European swimming championships, repeating the feat in 1896. An all-around athlete who also competed nationally in track and field and soccer, Hajos won Hungary's 100-meter sprint championship (in track), as well as the national 400-meter hurdles and discus titles. Alfred also played on Hungary's national soccer championship teams in 1901, 1902, 1903. He is a member of the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1896, Hajos was an architecture student in Hungary when the Athens Games took place. He was allowed to compete, but permission from the university to miss class had not come easy. When he returned to the Dean of the Polytechnical University, the dean did not congratulate Alfred on his Olympic success, but instead said, "Your medals are of no interest to me, but I am eager to hear your replies in your next examination." In 1930, Hajos created the Margaret Island National Sports Hall in Budapest.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Feb. 1, 1878 - d. Nov. 12, 1955
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
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)