1980 Olympiad: USSR v Hungary

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.


From left back row: Vladimir Akimov, Viacheslav Skok (coach), Viacheslav Sobchenko, Boris Popov (Head Coach), Michail Ivanov, Evgeny Grishin, Georgy Mshvenieradze, Evgeny Sharonov and Alexei Barkalov. Front row: Sergei Kotenko, Mait Riisman, Aleksandr Kabanov and Erkin Shagaev

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.

About Erkin Эркин Shagaev Шагаев
European, world, Olympic champion, two times World Cup winner Чемпион Европы, мира, Олимпийских игр, двукратный обладатель Кубка мира

6 Responses to 1980 Olympiad: USSR v Hungary

  1. Maurice Eames says:

    Great viewing Thanks Erkin last exclusion could have been costly

    • Thank you for the comment Maurice! You are correct but I had both arms in the air when Gyorgy Horkai engaged with me trying to get an exclusion, therefore not sure about the validity of that call by the referee🙂.

      Besides, our opponents received a chance to even up the score with 45 seconds exclusion time with 50 seconds remaining in the match. So, any notion that the home-ground team might have been helped can’t be sustained.

  2. Csilla Kicsi says:

    Thank you Erkin! I remember, the whole community in my home town in Hungary talked about this game…and we were very angry with Tamas Farago (our favourite Star) because he missed that penalty shot. ////please help me with my memory…as far as I know…only this one he missed during his whole carrier in games… it is right?
    You had definitely dominated in the Soviet Team and you had received, what you deserved, the OLYMPIC GOLD! Congratulation!
    This film is not just memory/history, but I also truly believe the useful “heritage piece” to encourage your students!
    Regards; Csilla Kicsi

    • Thank you for the comments and kind words Csilla!
      I am not sure if Tomas missed any other penalty shots. I only speak for what I have seen myself.
      I do not think I was the dominating player in the team. I think every player contributed well in that match.
      But thank you anyway!

  3. Wes says:

    Hi Erkin,
    As a young player growing up in the eighties, the only time I got to see top level water polo was every four years when the Olympic Games were being televised. I would record every game I could and watch them over and over again until the tape wore out!

    But, the one thing we missed out on each Olympic cycle was the gold and bronze medal games as, invariably, Australia wouldn’t qualify.

    The Barcelona gold medal match between Spain and Italy was televised live in Australia, but they crossed to the start of the marathon at the beginning of the last period of extra time – unbelievable – which reflects the Australian culture that places water polo well down the list of sporting priorities.

    I was lucky to be in Barcelona to witness that epic game. I remember Manuel Estiarte also missing a penalty. So it seems that the pressure of a big game affects even the best players. YouTube and Vimeo have changed things now and we can see highlights and even the London finals. I can also now view some of those games – like this one from 1980 – which I would love to have seen all those years ago, just to satisfy my curiosity.

    What we really need in Australia is to have regular top level games, from around the world, broadcast on a weekly or daily basis. I’m sure our young players would be inspired by the current greats, as I was, by Estiarte, Bebic, Sharanov, Krivokapic, Otto, Farago and many more!

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