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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Three times—early in the morning in a remote corner of a deserted training ground, in the middle of the busy luncheon hour in my hotel room, late at night in a friendly home outside the city—I met Hungarian athletes and coaches, each time at their request, and was asked what SPORTS ILLUSTRATED would do to help them.
To all I replied that, in the case of athletes or coaches who decided to apply for admittance to the U.S., SPORTS ILLUSTRATED would be happy and proud to facilitate their transportation and entry, to sponsor a tour of American cities, and to do all in its power to aid in arranging the permanent settlement of individual athletes. It is fair to say that our offer powerfully influenced many Hungarian decisions. While it was not for us to urge the decision itself, it seemed our moral responsibility to prevent any decision against going to the U.S. from being taken solely because of some relatively minor material difficulty which we could help overcome. Now we can as fairly trust that those who freely decided to come were wisely and happily inspired.
A score of Hungarian athletes have chosen to seek asylum in other countries for reasons easily understandable. A few prefer France or Italy because they are free countries close to their homeland. Mihaly Igloi, the internationally famous athletic coach and the Svengali of the Hungarian track squad, and L�szi� T�bori, the sub-four-minute miler, hesitate between North and South America. Istv�n R�zsa-V�lgyi, another great miler and like T�bori world famous, endured agonies of uncertainty and hourly changed his mind. No one will mock his indecision. He finally agreed to return to Budapest.
The pair which made the first-night escape from the Olympic Village apparently never had any doubts. Zolt�n T�r�k, a big, gray-haired man of 57 with the farseeing blue eyes of a sailor, is Hungary's chief rowing coach. This was his fourth Olympics as competitor or coach. A native of Budapest, T�r�k has never visited the U.S. and has no relatives there, but he has made friends with Jack Kelly and hopes of find a home in Philadelphia. "I decided to try to get to America when I was with the team in Prague," he said.
I asked T�r�k why he had not tried to get away when he had left Hungary on previous occasions. "This last revolt of the people gave me the impulse. It made me feel we could be free men again," he said.
His companion, 39-year-old R�bert Zimonyi, coxswain in the Hungarian four-oars, bronze medalist at the London Games of 1948 and a Hungarian national champion for 22 years, feels much the same way. He said, with all the fire his 114-pound frame could muster, "I want to go to America to learn and to teach freedom. I have a mother and sister in Hungary. I will send them money. I do not fear reprisals against them. Too many are leaving Hungary. There is too much disorganization. I want to live in America, but I want to go home when Hungary is free."
Most of them spoke with the same simplicity. A woman athlete, Olga Gyarmati, a striking, dark-eyed blonde who won the broad jump gold medal in the 1948 Games, talked of the "great spiritual depression" which had prevented her from performing at her best in Melbourne. She spoke to me just a few minutes after she had made up her mind. "Home, I am a clerk. I do not know what I shall do when I arrive in America. I shall look."
There are a few whose nationalistic role in the recent turmoil in Hungary has made them afraid to return. Such, by his own statement, is the most important (in an official sense) defector of all. This is L�szl� Nadori, chief of staff of the Hungarian Sports Ministry and one of the two secretaries of the Hungarian Olympic Committee present in Melbourne. Nadori, a personable and evidently brilliant young man of 33, who speaks English, French, German, Dutch and Polish ("I learned them all from books"), describes his official functions as that of coordinator of all Hungarian sports events. In the U.S., says Nadori, he wants to eschew politics and "live in silence." He wants to pursue studies in a postgraduate course at Springfield College, where he has a friend.
Thus the Melbourne Games which had begun in the shadow of the Hungarian tragedy end with a dramatic reminder of that same tragedy; yet the Games have run their course, swept along by the tremendous wave of Australian enthusiasm, almost entirely free of disagreeable incident. Only in the closing days did the strain begin to show. Soviet water polo players whispered "fascists" at their Hungarian rivals (who thrashed them 4-0), and a bloody fist fight ensued. At the sabre fencing between Russians and Hungarians a partisan crowd shouted for the latter and booed the former, but in general neither the Russians nor anyone else can complain of the applause they got from Australian crowds.
The third week of the Olympics always comes as something of an anticlimax after the crowded excitement of the track and field events, but the "fringe" sports—which are not on the fringe at all for many countries—provided good entertainment for consistently appreciative crowds. Fencing, watched by people who mostly knew nothing about the sport, proved as popular as anything; the noise (fencers shout when they think they have touched their opponent) and the rhubarbs considerably animated the proceedings. A fencing rhubarb, of course, is a relatively gentlemanly affair. The protesting fencer whips off his mask (faster even than a catcher) and stands rigidly at attention, gazing appealingly but in silence at the referee. Gymnastics also were well liked, particularly the women's brand; almost all women gymnasts are attractive. One Australian paper was even moved to complain about the "immodesty" of Olympic women's apparel and to publish in support of their view a pleasant picture of the photogenic U.S. gymnast, Sandra Ruddick.