Szekely, Eva : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Szekely, Eva


Country Represented:

Years Competed:
1948, 1952, 1956

Medals Received:
gold, silver

Olympic Info:
One of the greatest Olympic swimmers of all-time, Szekely competed in three Olympiads for Hungary. At the 1948 Games, Eva finished fourth in the 200-meter breaststroke, fifth in the 4x100-meter freestyle, and sixth in the 400-meter freestyle. She returned to the Olympics four years later at the 1952 Helsinki Games, competed in two events, and captured her first Olympic medal. In the 200-meter breaststroke, Szekely won her preliminary heat in a time of 2:55.1 and then set an Olympic record in the semifinals with a time of 2:54.0. In the final, Eva won the gold medal and lowered her Olympic record in the process, with a time of 2:51.7. She also competed in the 400-meter freestyle, reaching the semifinals, but advanced no further after finishing third in her heat with a time of 5:19.3.

Szekely's final trip to the Olympic Games occured in 1956, when she and her husband, Deszo Gyarmati (Hungary's water polo captain) left for the Melbourne Games during the first days of the Hungarian revolt against Communism. Eva later explained that the world turned upside down when: "...we arrived in Melbourne, we learned that the Russians had come into power...we had no word of our two-year old daughter, or my parents. I didn't get any real sleep for a week before I was due to race and lost over 12 pounds. My husband also was extremely worried, of course..." At the Games, Eva took the silver in the 200-meter breaststroke (2:54.8). She said of her silver medal: "...even though it was one of the few times that I have been beaten in competition, considering everything, I am very proud of the silver medal..." Szekely also competed in the 400-meter freestyle and advanced to the final, where she finished in fifth place with a time of 5:14.2.

Growing up in Hungary, Eva belonged to a local swim team and was happy that it was her talent, not religion, that counted. In 1941, however, she was expelled from the team as a 'religious undesirable.' Towards the end of World War II, she lived in a Swiss-run 'safe house' in Budapest with forty other people in two rooms. For exercise, Eva ran up and down five flights of stairs 100 times every morning. After the war, she began to participate in international meets and married Deszo Gyarmati, who is considered by experts to be the greatest water polo player of all time (he was also an Olympic gold medalist).

In 1957, Eva and Deszo (with their daughter) used forged passports to flee the country and emigrate to the United States but returned to Hungary the following year 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:
Between 1940-1958, Szekely set 10 World records and 5 Olympic swimming records. Her World Records included the 100-meter breaststroke (1:16.9) in 1951, the 400-meter individual medley (5:50.4) in 1953, and the 400-meter freestyle relay (4:27.2) in 1952. Eva also won 10 World University Championships, 68 Hungarian National Titles, and held 107 Hungarian National records! In 1952, the definition of breaststroke was such that the arms had to move in parallel. Szekely was the first to use the butterfly stroke when she won the gold at Helsinki. By 1956, the definition had changed and the butterfly was a medal discipline of its own. Eva is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, and the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. April 3, 1927

Budapest, Hungary

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)
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 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)
New York Times, July 21-August 2, 1952
New York Times, November 23-December 8, 1956