Passages: Gyorgy Karpati, Three-Time Olympic Water Polo Gold Medalist, 84

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Gyorgy Karpati, a four-time Olympic medalist and three-time gold medalist, died Wednesday at age 84.

The death was announced by the Association of Immortal Hungarian Athletes. No cause of death was listed.

Karpati won gold medals for Hungary in 1952, 1956 and 1964. He also won a bronze medal at the 1960 Olympics and was on the coaching staff for the gold-winning team at the 1976 Games. He was elected to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1982.

The 1956 Games was particularly resonant for Hungary . The Hungarians beat the Soviet Union in the semifinal, the infamous “Blood in the Water” game, in which Karpati scored. That game, a 4-0 Hungary win, occurred just weeks after an anti-Soviet movement within the country was violently quashed. Karpati told the Associated Press in 2002 that the semifinal was like, “battling the huge Soviet Goliath.”

“We shared a feeling that if we could beat the Russians, it would be a kind of payback, a psychological victory for Hungary,” Karpati told the Chicago Tribune in 2006.

Hungary would go on to win the gold medal the following day, 2-1, over Yugoslavia. Karpati is the last surviving member of the 12-member squad. It also was the high-water mark for an ascendant Hungarian swimming program, many of the members of which defected from the country in light of the domestic unrest.

Karpati was one of the 60 athletes who took the invitation from the American Athletic Union (AAU) to defect for a tour through the West after the 1956 Olympics. He ultimately returned to Hungary four months later to a fiancée waiting for him.

Hungarian president Viktor Orban posted a picture with Karpati to his official Facebook page Wednesday, calling him “the Pele of water polo.”

In total, Karpati played 162 matches for Hungary before his retirement in 1969. He was 17 when he made his Olympic debut in Helsinki in 1952. Karpati also won three European Championships.

Karpati began his aquatic career as a swimmer, winning four national championships. He played club water polo for Ferencvaros, winning five Hungarian league championships. Karpati earned a law degree after his final Olympics as a player and coached the sport in Hungary and Australia.

In 2012, Gyorgy Karpati discussed the decision to defect and return to Hungary with Sports Illustrated, whose parent company Time Inc. played a role in helping athletes escape.

“I became an Olympic champion again, so no regrets,” he said.

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2 years ago

Blood in the Water….Ervan Zador