Many artists were inspired by the infamous water polo match of 1956. Colin Gray directed a documentary titled Freedom’s Fury about the game. Quentin Tarantino actually co-edited the documentary and called it “the best untold story ever”.
The water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, is called “Blood in the water” for a reason. According to wwos.nine.com, this game is “one of the most extraordinary events in Olympic history”.
The semi-final match occurred only a few weeks after the Soviets invaded Hungary in 1956. There was a lot of tension even before the athletes got into the pool, but it only got uglier. There were numerous altercations and fights between the players, including underwater headlocks.
The match was shortened after Hungarian player Ervin Zádor was hit in the head by a Soviet player called Valentin Prokopov. Zádor climbed out of the pool with a slashed eye and a bloody head. Zádor later said:
“There was no problem until I made a huge error. I looked up to question why the referee had blown his whistle. I should not have taken my eye off Prokopov. The next thing I saw, he had his full upper body out of the water, and he was swinging at my head with an open arm.”
The many Hungarian supporters and the Hungarian coach both protested the Soviet’s hard play. The game was eventually halted, and Hungary won 4-0. (Later, the Hungarian team also won 2-1 over Yugoslavia, but Zádor could not play due to the injuries he suffered during the match against the Russians.) Angry spectators booed the Russian team, and some even wanted to rush towards them after the game, so the team had to be escorted to their dressing room by the police.
Former player György Karpati said in 2002:
“In the strained political situation we were in, it was a body-to-body encounter with our opponents. Now I have to admit that I’m convinced even the referee was pulling for us. We were from a small country battling the huge Soviet Goliath.”
A story to inspire many others
The 1956 match against Russia inspired several documentaries and films. One of the most well-known ones is Freedom’s Fury which was co-produced by Quentin Tarantino.
Freedom’s Fury is narrated by nine-time Olympic gold medalist Mark Spitz, who was actually coached by Zádor. Eight of the Hungarian players (including Zádor) and four ex-Soviet players were interviewed for the film. Unfortunately, no one from the Hungarian team is alive today. Production began in 2002, and it took nearly five years to complete, but it eventually came out in 2006.
Colin Gray, the editor of the documentary (who also played water polo himself), said:
“Both teams were as much a victim of the circumstances and really both countries were imprisoned by the same ideology. These guys were able to finally reconnect as human beings and as fellow athletes. That was something that we really wanted to highlight, the sort of humanistic side to counter the sort of oppression of ideology that everyone had suffered under in the Eastern bloc.”
Source: wwos.nine.com.au; Wikipedia, IMDB