United by Water | The Gyarmati aquatics family of Hungary

Written by:Meg Keller-Marvin, International Swimming Hall of Fame (ISHOF)

In the Gyarmati family, a love of water is matched by their success in the pool. Dezso, Eva and Andrea are the lone father, mother and daughter grouping with their names etched into the walls of the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Dezso Gyarmati | An Icon of Water Polo

Coming from a small, landlocked country in central Europe, at first blush it might come as a surprise that Hungarian athletes have traditionally excelled in the pool, particularly in water polo and swimming.  Water polo is the national sport of Hungary.

As it has been said many times, Dezso Gyarmati is “the most decorated player in the history of water polo.”  It’s a hard sentiment to argue. Gyarmati participated in five Olympics and medalled in each of those Games, including winning three gold medals at Helsinki 1952, Melbourne 1956 and Tokyo 1964 event editions.

The gold medal in Melbourne was a memorable event in the history of water polo.  The Hungarians played the Soviets, in what became known as “The Blood in the Water” match, in which many stories have been written and even movies have been made.  The match was played just weeks after the Soviets had invaded Hungary.  Hungary won 4-0, with Gyarmati scoring the first goal, and setting up the other three in the semifinal. 

Gyarmati and the Hungarians won the silver medal at the London 1948 Olympics and the bronze at the Rome 1960 Games.

After his career in water polo, Gyarmati went on to become the national team coach, where he won the first gold medal for Hungary at the first FINA World Championships (Belgrade 1973). In time, Gyarmati’s daughter Andrea would become Hugary’s top swimmer and a world record-setter. 

Gyarmati coached the Hungarian Team from 1972 -1980, and then again from 1985-1988.  In addition to the gold in 1973, the team won two silver World Championship medals in 1975 and 1978.  The team also took gold at the first World Cup event in 1979 and two European Championships under Dezso.

After his successful career in coaching, Dezso went into politics, where he was already respected and well-known in his country. Elected as a Member of Parliament from the Hungarian Democratic Forum, he served on the Municipality, Public Administration, Internal Security and Police Committee, beginning in 1990.

In 2003, he was appointed chairman of the sports section of the Fidesz’s Cultural Department where he served for several years.

Hungary lost an icon in 2013 when Gyarmati passed away that August. World Aquatics said at the time “we are in mourning,” and went on to call him one of the best water polo players of all time and described him like this: “The left-handed genius could play in all positions of the field. Known for his fearless approach in every game, he was able to decide the biggest clashes single-handedly.”

Despite a long illness, Gyarmati attended Hungary’s last match before the World Championships – Barcelona 2013 and watched Hungary’s victory in the championship from his hospital bed.

He remained a water polo player until his last breath, which is only fitting for the greatest water polo player of our time.

Dezso Gyarmati was inducted into ISHOF in 1976.

As if Dezso Gyarmati was not enough in his own right, he went on to marry Eva Szekely, 1952 Hungarian Olympic gold-medal swimmer. Together they had the aforementioned Andrea Gyarmati, who won an Olympic gold medal for Hungary at the Munich 1972 Games.

Never has a father, mother and daughter all been inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame until the Gyarmati Family came along.

Eva Szekely | “Madame Butterfly” of Swimming

 Image Source: ISHOF

Eva Szekely, more than any other swimmer, took the difficult transitions in world records, more than any stride from butterfly-breast (Olympic gold) allowed in 1952 to the orthodox breast (Olympic silver) required in 1956. 

Eva known as the original “Madame Butterfly,” overcame rough treatment during World War II to become the 100m breaststroke world record holder and Olympic gold medallist in the 200m breaststroke at the Helsinki 1952 Games. Four years later, Szekely would add another Olympic medal in the event – this time silver. 

She was the first world record holder in the 400-metre individual medley in 1953.  In a long career of three Olympics (1948-52-56), Szekely was Europe’s best all-around swimmer in the early 1950s.  After her swimming career, she became a coach, training daughter, Andrea to a world record and Olympic fame.

Eva Szekely was inducted into ISHOF in 1976, right alongside her husband, Dezso.

Andrea Gyarmati | Continues the family legacy as Hungary’s top swimming ace

 Image Source: ISHOF

Andrea Gyarmati was born in 1954 in Budapest, Hungary, to parents who had an Olympic heritage.  Andrea’s commitment to succeed in her life goals developed because of her parents’ example.

Taught to swim at the age of three by her mother’s coach, the master and Hall of Famer, Imre Sarosi.  By the age of four, Andrea was jumping off the 10m diving tower.  As Andrea improved and her swimming became more her focus, Eva became her coach and taught Andrea the butterfly stroke – the stroke first performed in the 1940s by Eva as the overarm breaststroke which earned her the “Madame Butterfly” title.

Twenty-five years later, it was Andrea Gyarmati setting records at the Munich 1972 Olympics.  Her goal was the Olympic gold medal, and she had not lost a 100m fly race in the preceding four years.  In the semi-finals, she set a new Olympic and world record — 1:03.34.  Eight of her competitors qualified for the finals within seven-tenths of a second of each other, but the in the finals Andrea couldn’t keep the winning streak alive.

To anyone else, a bronze medal would have been acceptable; Andrea was going for the gold.  But she was strong and spirited and knew that only the winners can cry.  She returned the next day to win a silver medal in the 100m backstroke, only one-tenth of a second behind Hall of Famer Melissa Belote of the United States.

All told, Andrea was Europe’s best butterflier and backstroker in the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, with Hungary honouring her as the country’s “Sportswoman of the Year” from 1968 through 1972.  She won 28 Hungarian national championships in freestyle, backstroke and butterfly. This included seven consecutive national championships in the 100m butterfly and winning the 100m backstroke for four consecutive years.

Andrea Gyarmati joins her parents to become the only mother, father, and daughter family ever to be inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

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