When Soviet tanks crushed a spontaneous popular revolution in Hungary the repercussions were felt all around this planet. The shock was poignant in Melbourne, Australia, where the finest amateur athletes in the world were gathered just 10 years ago for the XVI Olympics. Among these athletes were 110 Hungarians.
This is an article from the Nov. 28, 1966 issue
The appearance of the Hungarian team at opening ceremonies had been greeted by a mighty roar, eclipsing all but the response to the Australian team itself. Once, during a water-polo game, the Magyars took on the Russians in a bloody fight as Soviet athletes hissed "Fascists!" at their Hungarian opponents. Many spectators, following the Hungarian lead, refused to stand for the Soviet anthem. But the most dramatic moment was yet to come.
"Less than 48 hours before the Melbourne flame was officially doused, two men in ill-fitting civilian clothes walked for the last time through the Olympic Village," SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reported from the Games, "it was dusk, they spoke no word, and they trod—by one of those dramatic coincidences which occasionally brighten the drab hues of reality—a road named Liberty Parade."
Zoltan Torok and Robert Zimonyi were the first of 55 Hungarians at Melbourne who decided that they had no country to return to. Eager to reach the U.S., some 34 of them sought help from our correspondents in Melbourne. "While it was not for us to urge the decision itself," the latter cabled the editors, "it seemed our moral responsibility to prevent any decision against going to the U.S. because of relatively minor material difficulties." SI helped arrange transportation and entry for the refugees, sponsored a fund-raising tour and helped find jobs, homes and scholarships.
Today 14 of these expatriates have homes on the West Coast. Most live modestly on salaries averaging $10,000. Ironically, one of the least-paid is the one who has contributed most. Mihaly Igloi, who has coached many record-breaking distance (1,500 meters to 10,000 meters) runners, went seven months without wages in 1964 working for the Los Angeles Track Club. He now draws $600 monthly from the Santa Monica Athletic Association, a salary that may not last beyond mid-December. "If we run out of money," says one official, "Igloi will have to go, because he is our only expense."
Laszlo Tabori, one of the first sub-four-minute milers, works as an electronics designer and coaches in his spare time. Gold-medal Water-poloist Arpad Domjan (his wife is Swimmer Kato Szoke), Diving Coach Balint Papp and Diver Ferenc (now Frank) Siak all own successful businesses. Hairdresser Siak is the only refugee who can claim a degree from a beauty school, but 10 of his countrymen have earned more conventional academic honors.
Another diver, two-time national champion Joe Gerlach, found a new use for his skills, and it nearly led him to tragedy. Gerlach demonstrated a pad for vaulters and high jumpers by diving off a 40-foot-high platform. Last December, the day before he was to be married, he misjudged and landed on a concrete floor, crushing all the bones of his face. The wedding was postponed, but not for long, and he happily returned to his diving.
Of the original 34 Hungarians, three—Coxswain Zimonyi, Fencers Attila Keresztes and Eugene Hamori—have competed for the U.S. in subsequent Olympics. Eighteen have become U.S. citizens. Four have migrated or have married into other countries. One has died. Eight have returned to a Hungary made considerably freer by the bravery of the revolutionaries.
None, to our knowledge, has regretted traveling that road called Liberty.