|This is my contribution to Round Twelve of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.|
One of the stand out points of London 2012 was Oscar Pistorius competing against able-bodied athletes, but he was by no means the first Olympian with a physical disability.
One such was Olivér Halassy, the Hungarian water polo player and freestyle swimmer who competed successfully in three Olympics from 1928 to 1936 despite having only one leg.
Halassy was born in Újpest, Budapest in 1909 and as a child he was involved in a traffic accident that crushed his foot and resulted in him having his left leg amputated below the knee.
But he didn’t let this get in the way of his athletic career and he joined the sports society Újpesti Torna Egylet which promoted a range of sports, including swimming and water polo.
He was certainly good enough to represent his country at water polo and took part in his first Olympics in Amsterdam in 1932 when he played in all four matches, scoring three goals and winning a silver medal.
Halassy won gold with the team in Los Angeles in 1932 and in Berlin in 1936, playing in all the matches and defeating Germany on both occasions.
The 1936 contest was a tight affair against the highly trained Germans who were cheered on by the capacity home crowd. Each side won six matches and they drew 2-2 when they met, but the Hungarians won thanks to a better goal average.
Being an amputee would have undoubtedly hindered Halassy. Water polo players use their legs to gain momentum when chasing the ball or an opponent, as well as to drive out of the water to pass or shoot, but Halassy was an outstanding half-back due to his sturdy physique, stamina and ball-handling skills.
Halassy also won swimming medals and became the European champion in the 1500 metres freestyle event in 1931 just hours after helping the water polo team to victory.
If anything, his disability would have been even more of a hindrance in swimming events as it would have been a disadvantage in driving off the blocks, not to mention the 29 turns in the 1500 metre race and being able to get push-off from the wall.
When his swimming career ended, Halassy became an auditor and in 1946 he was shot dead by an occupying Soviet soldier as he returned by taxi to his Budapest home. His wife gave birth to their third child a few days later.
He is commemorated in his home city in the Halassy Olivér Sportközpont (Olivér Halassy Sports Centre) and Budapest is also where you will find the memorial statue illustrated on the right.