Population: 9.8 M
Area: 93 030 km2
Summer Olympic Medals: 476 (167 G-144 S-165 B)
Winter Olympic Medals: 6 (0 G-2 S-4 B)
There are seven countries in the world that can proudly boast to have collected more Olympic medals than Hungary. Of those, only Sweden has a better medal per capita rating, and missing the 1920 and 1984 Games does not help the Magyars numbers even if they still lead in golds per people. However, Hungary is undoubtedly the most successful country to never host an edition of the Olympics.
For the majority of sports fans, the most recognizable team in the country’s history is the Golden team, the national football team that dominated this sport’s landscape in the early 50’s. Also known as the Mighty Magyars, the team headlined by legendary Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis and Zoltán Czibor redefined football with his revolutionary WM formation (2-3-3-2), a tactical breakthrough based on versatility that would inspire the “Total Football” that Netherlands implemented a couple of decades later. This mythical football side, coached by Gusztáv Sébes, won the 1952 Olympic tournament, demolished a pretentious English national team on two notable clashes, and lost only once from 1950 to 1956, precisely the 1954 Wold Cup Final, a controversial match that West Germany secured on what went to become known as the “Bern Miracle” and one of the biggest upsets in sports history. Nonetheless, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 effectively scattered the core of this magical team, with the main stars leaving home powerhouse Budapest Honvéd to play at FC Barcelona or Real Madrid. The football national team was also a runner-up on the 1938 World Cup and added two more Olympic gold medals in 1964 and 1968, but the pipeline of talent has gone dry over the last decades, with the last Wold Cup appearance dating back to 1986, and the 4th place on the 1972 European Championship being the last noteworthy outcome.
The most successful clubs on the country are the capital’s representatives: Ferencváros, holders of a record 28 championship titles, MTK Budapest, Újpest and Honvéd, but over the last few years new powers have emerged, namely Debrecen, winners of seven of the last ten national titles, and current champions Videoton, based on the city of Székesfehérvár. With the apex of the nation’s football coming on the early 50’s, before the creation of European Cups, Hungarian clubs don’t have a highly decorated continental history, with the only triumph belonging to Ferencváros, winner of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1965.
Today, the most important team sport in Hungary is water polo, with no other nation gathering as much Olympic glory on the game. Nine Olympic gold medals on the men’s event and a total of fifteen in twenty-five editions display the domination of the nation on the world scale, with the most famous match of all-time opposing the Magyars and the Soviet Union on the height of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The semi-final of the 1956 Melbourne Games will forever be known as the “Blood in the Water match” after Valentin Prokorov punched Ervin Zador’s eye on the final minutes of Hungary’s 4-0 win, with the blood pouring on the water almost causing a riot of the Hungarian fans that forced the game to be called off in the final minute. Holders of three World Championships and twelve European Championships, Hungary took gold in three consecutive Olympic tournaments at the beginning of this century but lost on the quarter-finals to Italy in London 2012, while the women’s team has yet to medal on four editions. Deszõ Gyarmati, a three-time Olympic Champion (1952, 1962 and 1964) and five-time medallist, is the most decorated player in the history of the sport and later, as a coach, led the Magyar nation to three more medals, including gold in 1976. He scored a goal and set up the other three in the infamous battle of Melbourne.
Handball is the other team sport with great relevance in Hungary. Although the national team has never medalled in the Olympics, Hungary has finished an incredible five times just outside the podium, in 4th, the last of those in 2012. In European Championships they haven’t been able to do better than that, whereby the only laureate came in 1986, when they lost the World Championship final to Yugoslavia despite the best efforts of left-back Péter Kovács, the most prolific and most capped player in Hungarian handball history. At the club level, MKB Veszprém holds two EHF Cup Winner’s Cup and a record 23 national titles, being followed by the 14 of Honvéd, the only Hungarian club to win the EHF Champions League, in 1982. Meanwhile, Pick Szeged, the main internal competition to Veszprém, triumphed in the EHF Cup in 2014. On the women’s side, the leading team is Győri ETO, winner of the last seven national championships and European Champions in 2013 and 2014. The female national team was the European Champion in 2000, the World Champion in 1965, and a runner-up on the 2000 Sidney Olympics.
Shifting attentions to individual performances, fencing is the sport that has contributed the most to the honourable Hungarian Olympic total, with 83 medals amassed, 35 of those golds. On a country that excels in producing sabre and epee specialists, a good portion of those awards were conquered due to the efforts of Aladár Gerevich, the only man in history to win six Olympic titles on the same event (sabre team competition, 1932-1960), to which he added the individual title in 1948. His colleague Pál Kovács shared part of the credit in five of those six consecutive Olympic golds, competing from 1936 to 1960 and triumphing on the individual event in 1952, while Rudolf Kárpáti also managed to collect six gold medals, four on the team event (1948 to 1960) and the individual spoils in 1956 and 1960. Hadn’t the WWII wiped out two editions of the Games, their trophy cabinets would be even more crammed.
Below fencing on the podium of sports with most medals, we find two water sports that display the expertise of the Magyars despite being a landlocked nation. Indeed, no sea access doesn’t necessarily mean few aquatic resources and the presence of two important rivers, the Danube and the Tizsa, along with Lake Balaton, the largest in Central Europe, allow for plenty of training opportunities for swimmers and canoeists. Krisztina Egerszegi is probably the biggest name in Hungary’s swimming history, being the only female swimmer to win five individual Olympic titles and one of three athletes to win the same swimming event (200 m backstroke) in three Summer Olympics (1988, 1992, 1996). However, she is joined by Tamás Darnyi, who collected four gold medals in 1988 and 1992 and went undefeated in individual medley events between 1985 and 1993, which also grants him recognition as one of the greatest of all-time in the sport. Meanwhile, sprint canoeist Katalin Kovács holds a record of 40 World Championships medals, including 31 titles, and added eight more on Olympic competitions, all in team events, sharing the K2-500m wins in 2004 and 2008 with Natasa Dusev-Janics.
Gymnastics, wrestling and boxing have also provided a fair share of success to the country, with double digit Olympic titles. In particular, artistic gymnastics has contributed with several Hungarian idols: Ágnes Keleti, who won 10 Olympic medals in just two Games (1952 and 1956), including five golds, is considered one of the most successful Jewish athletes of all-time, and Zoltán Magyar was a double Olympic champion in the Pommel Horse discipline. Boxer László Papp is one of the most notable Hungarian-born athletes of all-time, becoming the first boxing triple Olympic Champion in 1956 and never losing a fight in his professional career (27 wins plus 2 draws)
However, outside of Water Polo, there’s only one other sport where Hungary leads the all-time medal count and that is the modern pentathlon, with 22 medals achieved in 38 total events in Olympic history. András Balczó owns five of them, collected between 1960 and 1972, when he conquered his only individual Olympic title.
Hungary’s only medals in Winter Olympic Games were achieved in figure skating and always in pair’s competitions, with the last of the six dating back to 1980. Going outside the Olympic spectrum, it’s important to remember the Hungarian prowess in chess, spearheaded by the talents of recently retired Judit Polgár, by far the most decorated female player in history.
Dániel Gyurta (Swimming)
The 26-year old swimmer from Budapest was considered a premature prodigy since his early days and he didn’t take long to make a big splash. As a 15-year-old, he was second on the 200m breaststroke race of the Athens Olympics, in 2004, but that feat did not materialize on more successes right away, with Gyurta failing to medal again in big long-course competitions until 2009. In between, he added some silverware on less important short-course (SC) events and failed to defend his position on the 2008 Olympics, missing the podium by two positions. However, he found the right path at the 2009 World Championships (LC), taking the title on his favourite race, the 200m, and he hasn’t stopped picking up medals since then. He renewed his World title in 2011 and 2013, extended his dominance on the longest breaststroke event to the 2010 and 2012 SC Worlds, and reached the pinnacle with the Olympic title conquered on the 2012 London Games in a new world record time. He has since lost that record but continues to be the most feared swimmer on the 200m breaststroke, a race Gyurta usually starts slowly in order to roar back on the second half and surprise his opponents.
The three times Hungarian Sportsman of the Year (2009, 2012 and 2013), although, is more than just a Champion, having received the 2013 International Fair Play Award, attributed by UNESCO, due to his magnificent tribute to fallen rival Alexander Dalen Oen, a Norwegian breaststroker who died months before the 2012 Olympics and whose family received a replica of the Gold medal won by Gyurta.
Krisztián Berki (Gymnastics)
Born in 1985, Berki is currently rated as the best pommel horse worker of all-time, having completely dominated the gymnastic discipline over the last few years. He has collected six European titles since his first major international championship, in 2005, on the edition held on Debrecen, and added three World titles in 2010, 2011 and 2014, results that netted him the nomination as Hungarian Sportsman of the Year on the same seasons.
However, there’s nothing like an Olympic gold medal and Berki also climbed to the highest podium position in London 2012, seeing off the challenge put on by British Louis Smith due to a tiebreaker after both athletes finished the competition with the same score. Berki had a higher execution score by a difference of 0.1 points to luck out into the win, but he wouldn’t be as happy a year later after a fall on the qualifications round forced him out of his World title defence. In 2016, Berki will try to match compatriot Zóltan Magyar, striving to retain the Olympic crown.
Katinka Hosszú (Swimming)
I made a commitment to always select, at least, a female athlete on this section and I stand by that, even if, in this case, I needed to bend another rule, the one about not profiling two athletes from the same sport. The golden girl of Hungarian sport, though, is too important to leave out and Mr. Gyurta simply deserved his spot.
Hosszú, a 26-year-old native of Pecs, is one of the brightest and better-rounded swimmers of this age and her résumé on international championships (European and World Championships, both short and long course) boasts an astonishing 43 medals, 22 of those of the highest calibre. Her greatest successes have come on medley competitions but she has already participated and taken victories in every swimming discipline (freestyle, butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke). Anyway, Hosszú’s best races are the 200m and 400m medley and the gold medals on the LC World Championships came on those events, first in Rome 2009 (200m) and later the double triumph of Barcelona 2013.
The Hungarian Sportswoman of the year in 2009, 2013 and 2014 competed in the last three Summer Olympics but failed to deliver on those occasions, something she will be eager to correct at Rio de Janeiro in 2016, which shouldn’t be a problem if the swimmer can maintain the level displayed last year. During the most decorated season of his career, Hosszú collected eight medals on the SC World Championships, including four titles, and added six more medals on the LC European Championships, an inordinate amount of prizes that earned her the distinction as FINA Swimmer of the Year.
The University of South California student also currently holds four individual World Records on short course (100, 2000 medley; 100, 200 backstroke) and the last three World Cup titles. She is married to his coach (and agent), American Shane Tusup, who received the award for Best Hungarian Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2014.
Other Athletes: László Cseh (Swimming), Krisztián Pars (Athletics), Gergely Kiss, Péter Biros (Water Polo), László Nagy (Handball), Áron Szilágyi (Fencing), Attila Vajda (Canoe Sprint), Miklós Hungvári (Judo), Danuta Kozák (Canoe sprint), Anita Görbicz (Handball), Éva Risztov (Swimming), Éva Csernoviczki (Judo)
Hungary’s sporting infrastructure is under complete overhaul, with the government approving, for example, a bizarre program to pump up, approximately, 250 M$ to upgrade and rebuild a total of 22 stadiums on the top two football divisions of the country.
In 2014, three new stadiums were already opened: the 23,700-seats Groupama Arena in Budapest, the new home of Ferencváros, the majestic Nagyerdei Stadion (Great Forest Stadium), in Debrecen, with a capacity for 20,000, and the polemic Pancho Arena, in Felcsút. The costly 3,500-seats facility is located on the small village of current Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and is destined for the country’s youth national teams, having already hosted games of the 2014 UEFA Euro Under-19.
The city of Győr also has a modern stadium, the ETO Park, a 15,600 arena built in 2008, but the biggest stadium in Hungary continues to be the Férenc Puskás Stadium, situated in the capital. Opened in 1953, the national stadium now holds 38,000 but, during the glory football days of the country, over 100,000 attended matches at the then-called Népstadium (People’s stadium). As an infrastructure highly deteriorated, options for a renovation or a rebuild have been weighted for years, with the current plans pointing to the construction of a new 68,000-seats facility on the same grounds and ready to open in 2018, in time to host matches of the 2020 UEFA European Championship. Numerous other sporting venues should also be erected on the vicinity of the new National Stadium, creating an Olympic Centre.
However, even before the new stadium, Hungary has already promised to build, in record time, the new Dagaly Swimming Center: an edgy state-of-the-art facility with capacity for 18,000 that was supposed to host the 2021 FINA World Aquatics Championships, but his now on track to receive the event’s edition in 2017, in what promises to be the largest-scale sports event ever hosted by Hungary. Yet, as of today, the most important swimming complexes in the country are the Debrecen venue, a 2,000-seats building that hosted the 2012 European Aquatics Championships, and Budapest’s Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium, home of the 2006 and 2010 editions of the European Championships and the 2014 European Water Polo Championships.
The new natatorium will become the biggest indoor sporting venue in Hungary, surpassing the László Papp Budapest Sports Arena, the most important multi-purpose arena in the country. Welcoming up to 12,500 spectators in the largest configurations (music concerts), the building opened in 2003 regularly hosts a great variety of sports and entertainment events, including international competitions of ice hockey (2003 and 2011 IHHF World Championships Division I), handball (2004 and 2014 Women’s European Championships), athletics (2004 World Indoor Championships), tennis and futsal. The new Budapest Sports Arena substituted the Budapest Sportcsarnoc, a facility built in 1982 that lasted only 17 years before succumbing to a fire in 1999.
With a capacity for 8500, the Főnix Hall, situated in Debrecen, is the second most important indoor arena in the country, having been built just in time for the 2002 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Since then, several events have been held on the main venue of Hungary’s second largest city but the biggest was probably the final of the 2010 UEFA Futsal Championship, where Spain defeated Portugal.
The Audi Arena, located in Győr, holds 5,500 people and was inaugurated in November 2014, taking part, along with the venues in Budapest and Debrecen, on the 2014 Women’s Handball European Championship, an organization shared between Hungary and Croatia. The 4000-seats Arena Savaria, in Szombathely, is also an important facility, having opened in 2006, while the Veszprém Arena receives 5,000 spectators to provide an amazing atmosphere for the home team’s games in the handball Champions League.
The Kisstadion in Budapest is a singular venue, an outdoor stadium mainly used for ice hockey. Opened in 1961, holds up to 14,000 and hosted the Hungarian Winter Classic, in 2009, along with several concerts and Davis Cup matches. A recent renovation has set up an isolated tent to lengthen the ice-season and protect against Winter’s harsh weather conditions.
To close this section, reference to the motor-racing circuit of Hungaroring, situated in Mogyoród, just 18 km out of Budapest. Besides the Formula One Grand Prix that has taken place there annually since 1986, the home of Hungarian motorsports has also hosted DTM, FIA GT and FIA WTCC Championship races. Described has a “twisty and bumpy” track, the circuit is located on a valley, allowing for excellent sight lines from almost everywhere, and has a capacity for 70,000 fans, being one of Hungary’s most visited destinations.
The best bets to watch exciting team sports events in Hungary are unquestionably the premier water polo national league, the Országos Bajnokság I (ou OB I), disputed between October and May, and the national handball championship, the Nemzeti Bajnokság I (NB I), with games ranging from September to May. Pick Szeged and Vészprém, the top handball teams in the country, are hot tickets, with regular sold out games and unbelievable atmospheres, but the same cannot be said of their football counterparts, who usually play in front of small attendances.
The list of the most important yearly sporting events in Hungary is the following:
ITTF World Tour Hungarian Open, Table Tennis
WestEnd Grand Prix “in Memoriam Sakovics Jozsef”, Fencing
Lake Balaton SuperMarathon, Athletics
March, Lake Balathon
FIA WTCC Race of Hungary, Motor Racing
May, Hungaroring (Mogyoród)
World Judo Grand Prix Budapest, Judo
2015 European Women Basket Championship, Basketball
June (2015); Budapest, Debrecen, Győr, Szombathely, Sópron
Red Bull Air Race World Championships, Air Racing
István Gyulai Memorial – Hungarian Athletics Grand Prix, Athletics
Formula One Hungarian Grand Prix, Motor Racing
July, Hungaroring (Mogyoród)
2015 ICF Canoe Marathon Master’s World Cup, Canoeing
September (2015), Győr
National Gallop, Horse Racing
Budapest International Marathon, Athletics
Tennis Classics (exhibition tournament), Tennis