Monday, August 13, 2012

Blood in the Water

Well, the end of the Olympics in London is happening as this is published. It is fifty six years since the Olympics were held in Melbourne and by the reporting, it was a wonderful, albeit modest, Olympic Games. However, it was marred by one particular event. This is pretty well straight from Wikipedia, but it tallies with what I already know.

Also relevant is that R recently saw the movie The Door, part of which focused somewhat on events in Hungary around the same time our Olympics were underway. I was scratching my head to remember the events but eventually I did and I was able to explain to R what happened, but I had the year totally wrong.

A student demonstration in Budapest turned into an uprising against the Soviet backed Hungarian government. It seemed it might succeed but then the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest. The Hungarian water polo team were in the hills above Budapest and watching the suppression from above, and then fled to Czechoslovakia before travelling to Melbourne to compete in the Olympic Games.

Once in Australia, they learnt fully of the quelling of the uprising and they were of course very concerned for the families and friends as three thousand Hungarians had been killed in the suppression of the uprising.

To use an English term, it was hardly surprising that when Hungary played against the Russia in water polo, that things 'kicked off'.

It is said that the water in the now demolished Olympic Pool in Melbourne's Batman Avenue turned red with blood. This seems an exaggeration, but blows were clearly exchanged. This photo, recently re-published in The Guardian, shows one Hungarian victim and the photo shot around the world, such as it could with technology back then. As Zador emerged from the pool, the Hungarian crowd, mostly being fairly recent immigrants to Australia, went wild and stormed onto the concourse and verbally abused, spat at and shook their fists at the Russians. The police soon restored order and Hungary was declared the winner and went on to win gold.

Zador sought and was granted asylum and moved to the United States and went on to coach swimmer Mark Spitz.

I suppose it was minor league compared to what happened some years late in Munich, but Olympic Games have certainly had some dramas in the past. The biggest drama for this Olympics seems to involve social media. Long may that continue.


  1. Colin9:03 am

    Yes that water polo match was a tragic affair. Photos certainly were flashed around the World.
    Can you imagine what it would have been like if all the present technology was available back then!

    Interesting indeed to learn that Zador became the coach of Mark Spitz. Didn't Spitz win a swag of medals in Munich! Zador must have been appalled once again.
    John Coates the Australina OIC member has already lashed out at Australian sporting administrators.
    Should be quite interesting all what is about to be exposed. Coates lays no blame on the athletes, he has praised them.

  2. Interesting how Australia became the stage for and a bit player in a number of cold war ('reds under the beds') events.

    The Olympics water polo altercation, before that the Petrov affair, then the Liliana Gasinskaya, the woman in the red bikini and after that the "Combe-Ivanov affair".

  3. And there was the noted communist speaker refused entry here by the government who then jumped from the ship and broke his leg landing on the wharf. He was invited here by some radical group but I can't think of his name. It made foreign headlines for little Oz. Something latte never will never do because it's foreign anyway. Ha.
    I have to go out now.

  4. Colin, I was just thinking about what it would be like if something like that happened at today's Olympics. Hundreds of photos of the incident would fly around the world in seconds. I've heard of Spitz, so he must have won medals somewhere. I heard the other day that Coates get paid nearly half a million a year. Obviously he can't rely on performance bonuses.

    LS, I had forgotten about the red bikini girl. There is one incident missing.

    That's the missing one RH. Gooesen something?

  5. Colin2:39 pm

    Mark Spitz!
    1972 Munich - 7 gold medals, 7 world records.
    My curiousity got the better of me so I googled him. Quite an interesting career. These were also the games that Shane Gould won at and then went into hibernation. Well off the face of planet earth and has only recently emerged.
    John Coates (Australian OIC member)
    well he will be in the news. And he according to the Australian today has a pretty THICK HIDE.
    He will sort it all out that's for sure. He blasted the swimmers for being over occupied even when watching team mates swim that they were busily playing with their mobile phones for Twitter and Facebook. I bet pounds to peanuts, that come Rio - mobile phones or whatever replaces them, will be BANNED.
    The only Aussies Olympic sporting events on a scale of A,B,C and D that achieved an A was kayaking and yachting.
    There were plenty of D's!

  6. Curious the political link between the two Olympics twenty years apart.

    Spitz was the Michael Phelps equivalent sensation at Munich and after the murder of the Israeli athletes he (Spitz) was rushed home once his swimming program had completed. Being Jewish, it was feared by the Americans that he might be targeted next if he remained.

  7. Correction: I should have said 16 years apart in my previous comment.

  8. Hello Andrew:
    Be assured, this whole incident is not forgotten here. And the 1956 Uprising is commemorated with memorials all over Hungary. Indeed a new one appeared in our square only a few months ago.

  9. Thanks Colin. It would be a very brave person who tried to ban mobiles.

    Victor, I knew he was an achiever. I suppose there wasn't much partying post Olympics for him to miss. I read an account of the murders and it sounded quite Keystone Cop like.

    JayLa, were you aware of the Melbourne part, or rather would native Hungarians be aware?

  10. Yes, we did know about the Melbourne part and we think that many older Hungarians would be aware of it but the details may now be becoming hazy.

  11. RH, are you thinking of Egon Kisch, Jewish Communist, tried to enter before WWII to warn about the dangers of Nazism and the prospect of war?
    He was the man famous for being given a dictation test in gaelic.
    Interesting story for another time and place.

  12. Thanks JayLa. I am a bit surprised that you knew of it.

    That's him RH. Not sure who I was thinking of.

    Good FC. He was indeed given such a test. Did it not become an urban myth that the Gaelic dictation test was generally given to those who might have passed every other requirement, but they weren't wanted.

  13. Colin8:00 pm

    Egon Erwin Kisch

    Good God - googled him, I am of the curious variety. He sure has a history, a real Communist. Seems that he was against everything that didn't suit his way of thinking. Maybe he should have gone north to Moscow rather than trying Australia, the UK kicked him out. Interesting character, thank you.

  14. Colin, right or wrong, he was a person of high moral principles.

  15. He was a human rights activist.

  16. You're right Andrew; he wasn't wanted. He was a polymath, and the gaelic test was stretching the dictation test rules a bit. He failed, but fortunately the guy who set the test couldn't get it right either. It was the Lord's Prayer.

    When he jumped ship, people who wanted to hear him speak took him in. It's things like this that make me proud to be an Australian.

    Menzies ended up looking a right prat over Kisch, but never lost his obsession with communism. In the context of the era, Australian communists were just idealists and had no way of knowing what was going on in Moscow and would have been horrified, or if they did probably thought the right wing were making it up. Menzies should have trusted that once Australians knew what was happening they would distance themselves.

  17. FC, I think knowledge of what was happening in the Soviet Union had to be slapped in their faces. I think they knew earlier but did not want to lose their dream or cause. Anyway, if Menzies hated him, he must have been a good bloke.

  18. In politics and journalism he was amazingly similar to George Orwell. They were social reformers opposed to fascism. Communism is the natural enemy of fascism. Stalin turned George against communism in the 1940s but George was never more than a rabid socialist anyway. Egon Kisch, George Orwell and Dr Jim Cairns were humanitarians before anything. They were all a bit nutty but that's what passion does to you. It's also what gets results.