Balczo makes last chance count in the modern pentathlon
After being Modern Pentathlon world champion five times, Hungarian typewriter mechanic Andras Balczo was missing only one significant honour. He had won gold medals in the 1960 and 1968 Olympic Games, both times in the Team event, but had always missed out on an individual gold. In 1960, he'd finished fourth, missing the podium by a mere nine points. He hadn't competed in 1964 after an argument with the sport's national governing body, and had then, after making amends, had taken silver in Mexico in 1968, where he missed out on gold by – yes – that same margin of nine points.
Now, at the age of 34, he had what most considered to be a final opportunity to take to the top step of the podium.
But he was not the favourite. That burden fell upon Boris Onyshchenko and after four phases, he appeared to be living up to his billing. Onyshchenko, the 1971 World Champion, led from another Soviet athlete, Pavel Lednev, with just the cross-Country running to come. Balczo, though, was a wonderful runner and comfortably outperformed his rivals in the final discipline to take the gold medal. At last, he was a champion.
He did not, though, return to much acclaim. As an ardent opponent of the ruling party, he declined a succession of honours and privileges, and found work hard to come by, yet his resolves remained. “The greatest gift a man can have is strong will,” he said. “God gave it to me for one reason: pentathlon.”
Onyshchenko returned to compete in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, but his career ended in ignominy. He was disqualified for cheating when he rigged his sword so that it would register hits when none had happened.