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Widely regarded as water polo’s greatest ever player, Dezso Gyarmati lit up five separate editions of the Olympic Games before going on to enjoy yet more success as a coach.
Shortly after Dezso Gyarmati’s death in Budapest on 18 August 2013, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) paid homage to the player in an article entitled “FINA in mourning”: “Legendary water polo player and coach Dezso Gyarmati has died at the age of 86,” the obituary read. “One of the greatest players the game ever seen and the most decorated in history, the left-handed genius could play in any position. Known for his fearless approach in every game, he was able to decide the biggest clashes almost single-handedly.”
In total, as a player and then a coach, Gyarmati enjoyed success at eight different Olympic Games, with his medal haul including four golds.
Capable of swimming 100m in 58.5 seconds, Gyarmati was fast, explosive and uncompromising. He competed in his first Games in London in 1948 at the age of 20, when Hungary finished second in the final group behind Italy to seal a silver medal.
In 1952 in Helsinki, Gyarmati won his first Olympic title. Though Hungary were held to a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia in their final match, they nevertheless secured the gold medal thanks to impressive early victories over the USA and Italy.
In the final round in Melbourne in 1956, meanwhile, Gyarmati starred in a clash against the USSR that has gone down as one of the most poignant water polo matches of all time, in view of its historical context. Captaining his country, Gyarmati opened the scoring and was involved in all three subsequent goals as the Hungarians secured a 4-0 win. They retained their title having won all five of their final round matches.
In Rome in 1960, Dezso and his side were forced to make do with the bronze medal following a pair of 3-3 draws against the USSR and Italy in a final round. In Tokyo in 1964, however, “thefastest player of all time” scored a series of goals in a dominant final round performance that included a 3-1 victory over Italy and a 5-2 win over the USSR as the Hungarians stormed to a third gold medal.
Away from the pool, Dezso married Helsinki 200m breaststroke gold medallist Eva Szekely in 1952 and is father to Andrea Gyarmati, who won two medals in Munich in 1972 – bronze in the 100m butterfly and silver in the 100m backstroke. After retiring, Gyarmati set out on a coaching career that was equally laden with success. Having led the Hungary water polo team to silver in 1972, he went on to seal the Olympic title in Montreal in 1976 before masterminding a third podium finish in Moscow in 1980. Beyond the Olympics, his Hungary sides also sealed victory in the inaugural editions of the FINA World Championships in 1973 and the FINA World Cup in 1979, as well as winning the European Championships in 1974 and 1977.
Regarded as a true hero in his homeland and decorated with distinctions of the highest order, Dezso Gyarmati subsequently embarked on a political career in Hungary that saw him become a Member of Parliament in 1990.
He always maintained a close link with water polo and wrote several books, including a complete history of Hungarian water polo, before his health began to decline in the 2010s. He attended the national team’s last home match before the 2013 FINA World Championships and was able to see the Magyars’ triumph in Barcelona from his hospital bed before his long lasting illness took him away. It was, according to the FINA obituary, “a fitting end to a legendary life, he took scenes of Hungarian victory with him on his eternal journey.”