Passages: Tibor Benedek, Three-Time Olympic Water Polo Gold Medalist, 47

Benedek and his Hungarian team celebrate a gold medal win at the 2013 FINA Worlds. Photo Courtesy: Gustau Nacarino

In yet another blow to the proud tradition of Hungarian water polo, Tibor Benedek, a three-time Olympic champion, European and world water polo champion, died Thursday at the age of 47, the result of pancreatic cancer.

On Wednesday, Gyorgy Karpati, a four-time Olympian—including gold medals at the 1952, 1956 and 1964 Games and silver in 1960—passed away on Wednesday at 84. Karpati was a member of the Hungarian team that in 1956 beat the Russian team in the famous “Blood in the Water” match, a semi-final contest that propelled Hungary to victory at the Melbourne Olympics.

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After they won gold in the Tokyo Games by a better goal differential versus Yugoslavia, the Magyars won again in 1976 then suffered through five Olympic cycles without gold until Benedek and his teammates broke through for gold in the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. It was the first of three-straight titles for Hungary, the greatest string of water polo success in Olympic history. Not only was he the captain of those great Hungarian squads, he is one of six players on coach Denes Kemeny’s roster that competed in all three Olympics.

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With 65 goals in five Olympic competitions—he also represented Hungary at the 1992 Barcelona Games and in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics—Benedek is the second leading scorer in Olympic water polo history and one of only nine water polo athletes to compete in five Games. He is one of ten players—all Hungarians—who captured gold three times in Olympic water polo competition. In total, he was capped for the Hungarian national team in 437 matches.

In 2016, Benedek was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame.

Hungarian coach Denes Kemeny celebrating their victory with his team in the after they beat Italy at the final of World Championships in Barcelona July 26, 2003.Hungary beat Italy 11-9 and won the gold medalion. REUTERS/ Gustau Nacarino

Denes Kemeny celebrates gold medal win over Italy at the 2003 FINA World Championships in Barcelona. Photo Courtesy: Gustau Nacarino

Earlier today, Benedek’s family issued a statement regarding his passing.

“At dawn today, Tibor Benedek, three-time Olympic champion, world and European champion in water polo, closed his eyes forever,” the statement, posted on the Hungarian Water Polo Federation site, said. “He left an irreplaceable and incomprehensible space for his family, his teammates, the entire water polo society, and the fans.

“We appreciate your condolences on public surfaces. However, at the request of his family, we ask both the public and members of the press to respect the rules of the game during this difficult period”

In addition to his success as a player, from 2013 – 2016 he led the Hungarian national team, winning a FINA World Championship in 2013 in Barcelona, and helming the squad at the 2016 Games in Rio, where Hungary finished fifth.

A lefty who stood 6-3, Benedek is considered one of the greatest players in Hungarian water polo history, and is acknowledged as one of the best international performers of his generation. Born in Budapest in 1972, he began swimming at five years old to correct a spinal condition.

Benedek first started playing polo at Budapest’s Central Sports School, and from 1989 to 1996 he played for Ujpest (UTE) in his hometown. In 1997 he moved to Italy, where he first played for Assitalia in Rome before switching to Pro Recco.

Benedek returned to Hungary to play for Honved between 2004 and 2007, then returned to Pro Recco, where he played  until his retirement in 2012.

During his professional career, he won LEN Champions League titles in 1994 with UTE, and 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012 with Pro Recco; he was a Hungarian and Italian league champion multiple times.

Following his retirement from national team play in 2010, Benedek assisted Kemeny and was behind the bench at the 2012 Games, when Hungary finished fifth. In January 2013 he assumed the head coaching position following Kemeny’s retirement. That summer, Benedek led his team to a FINA world championship—Hungary’s first in a decade—and a silver at the 2014 European Championships held in Budapest.

He concluded his coaching career at the Rio Olympics in 2016, and stepped down from the national team—but not away from polo. Benedek coached at with UTE until May of this year, until his illness, which had lingered since first being diagnosed in 2013, claimed his greatest passion.

With reporting from the Hungarian Water Polo Federation and Bruce Wigo

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    Balázs Hajas

    RIP Legend!

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