1980 Olympiad: USSR v Hungary
February 2, 2013 6 Comments
Over the years many of my friends have been asking if I had any video material from the days when I was playing water polo. I could not provide any as the technological advances of the current information age did not exist at the time. For whatever reasons, the Soviet Union’s (now Russian) state television archives could not provide even the Olympic games footage.
After many years of fruitless searching of videos from the Moscow – 1980 Olympic games, I lost any hope of ever finding one. But several days ago, I received an email from an unknown Roman Akimov. The surname suggested that he could have been a relative of either Anatoly or Vladimir Akimovs who were brothers. Both men were members of the Soviet Union National team and were among the best centre-backs in the world at the time. Anatoly became Olympic champion in Munich-1972 and Vladimir won the gold medal in 1980.
As it turned out, Roman Akimov is a son of the late Vladimir. Vladimir passed away in the 80s when Roman was 9 years old. All these years Roman kept searching for any memorabilia about his father and the teams he played for. Finally, after many years, his efforts were rewarded. He found the video tape of one of the crucial matches at the Moscow-80 Olympiad, the USSR V Hungary.
In the 1970’s-early 80s the main rivalry for the top position in world water polo was mainly between two nations: Hungary and the Soviet Union. The USSR won gold in Munich-1972 whilst Hungary won in Montreal-1976. (More history on the rivalry between these two nations in water polo can be found in the ‘Blood in the water’ and ‘Cold war foe – Good time keeper‘ articles on this site). Certainly, there were other excellent teams such as Italy who won 1978 world championships, Yugoslavia who has always been one of the main contenders at any event and other nations (hopefully, the video-records of our matches with Yugoslavia, Italy, Spain, Holland and others will also be found one day). However, for us an opponent number 1 has always been Hungary.
During the 1976-80 period, after a disastrous result in Montreal, the Soviet team went through the period of drastic rejuvenation. 52 athletes were tried, 11 played in Moscow-80. It was an extremely difficult and painful time for us. Our team came fourth only at the European (Sweden-77), world (West-Berlin-78) and the 1st World (FINA) Cup (Yugoslavia-79) championships. In every encounter between Hungary and the USSR in those events our rivals came on top. The Hungarians won the European championships in 1977 and the World Cup in 1979.
But despite all the losses by 1980 a powerful Soviet team emerged that dominated in world water polo for several years in the 1980s winning not only the Olympic games but the European (Italy-83), world (Ecuadors-82) and World Cup (twice held on USA soil in 1981 and 1983) championships as well as dozens of other major international tournaments.
That is why in Moscow-80 it was a match of principle that was to determine which team would get a placing among top two at least. It was a very tense game and all participants on both sides were very nervous. One example illustrating that: I never saw before or after that match that one of the best shooters of all time, the legendary Tomas Farago, would miss a penalty shot (then taken from 4 meters) – it happened in that game. Our Evgeny Grishin also did not score a penalty-an experienced goalkeeper, Endre Molnar, outplayed him in this episode. In the aftermath of the match, I remember the feeling of elation as we achieved the win against Hungary in the biggest official tournament on the planet for the first time in several years.
In 1980, after convincingly beating a mighty Yugoslavia (more on that match can be found in the ‘Tania di Mario – Italy needs you!‘ article on this site) in the final match, the USSR team won Olympic gold for the second time in history. Ours was known as a ‘star team’ rather than a team of ‘stars’. I am thankful to my coaches including the first one, Victor Tutushkin, and great team-mates. Without them I would not have become Olympic gold medalist.
The video footage provides rare images of great Hungarian players, Tomas Farago, Istvan Szivos, Gabor Csapo, Gyorgy Gerendash, Gyorgy Horkai, Attila Sudar and others in action. They were coached by famous Deszo Dyarmati. I am very thankful to Roman Akimov for providing the material and hope that readers of this blog will enjoy viewing it as much as I did.