H is for Olivér Halassy

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.
Olivér Halassy

Olivér Halassy

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.

1932 Hungarian Olympic Water Polo Team

1932 Hungarian Olympic Water Polo Team – Halassy on the right

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.

Olivér HalassyThe 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.

Olivér Halassy StatueWhen 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.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

10 comments… Add yours
  • Roger Green 6th March 2013

    Sad end to an inspiring life.
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Carver 6th March 2013

    Great post about a remarkable man. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  • Kate 6th March 2013

    Amazing athlete and great story. Kate, ABC Team

  • Melanie 6th March 2013

    What a great legacy he left for his children. Thanks for introducing me to yet another truly remarkable person.

  • Susan 6th March 2013

    What an amazing story! Thank you for letting us know about this athlete and hero.

  • Leslie 6th March 2013

    He must have been an inspiration for many other athletes!

    abcw team

  • photowannabe 6th March 2013

    Oh my, what a tragic end to his life.
    I like reading stories of doing great things under difficult odds.
    I’m glad there is a memorial for him.

  • Goulash Pudding 7th March 2013

    Another uplifting tale of human endeavour from your endless reservoir of knowledge. I wonder if they’ll ever build a memorial to Oscar Pistorius…after all burglars always use the bathroom before they begin their work.


Your email will not be published on this site, but note that this and any other personal data you choose to share is stored here. Please see the Privacy Policy for more information.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: