The Roar
The Roar


48 days to Rio: Blood in the water in Melbourne

The Australian Sharks take on Serbia in an important match at the Rio Olympics. (Image: Wikimedia Commons/Sean Fornelli CC BY-SA 2.0)
18th June, 2016

There have been plenty of cases where the Olympics had the power to repair fractured relations, to bring together people who would have otherwise remained estranged. This isn’t one of them.

When Hungary met Russia in the semi-finals of the men’s water polo at the Melbourne Olympics in 1956, there was far more than just a spot in the gold medal match on the line.


While the Hungarian team was on a pre-Olympics training camp in Czechoslovakia, an anti-Soviet rebellion in Budapest had been brutally suppressed by the USSR. Hundreds of Hungarians were killed, but the water polo team had no idea until they arrived in Australia and picked up a newspaper.

A game of water polo could never do the same harm to Russia that the Soviet tanks had done to Hungary. But it could provide some sort of resistance, however symbolic.

Hungary went into the match planning to “verbally agitate” their Russian opponents, in an attempt to goad them into losing their cool.

It worked.

Both sides kicked, punched and sledged their way through the match, and five players had to be sent from the pool.

Things reached boiling point in the closing minutes when Hungarian Ervin Zador was forced from the field with blood pouring from his right eye, thanks to the fists of Russian Valentin Prokopov.


The Melbourne crowd didn’t take too kindly to Zador’s treatment, and had it not been for the local police providing an escort from the pool, the Russian team would have been swarmed by spectators.

Hungary won the match 4-0 and went on to claim the gold medal, beating Yugoslavia 2-1.

Unfortunately, Zador couldn’t play that match on account of his eye. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the star player decided against returning to Hungary after the Games. He instead went to live in California, where his involvement in the Olympics continued.

As a swimming coach, Zador taught a teenage Mark Spitz, the man who so sensationally claimed seven gold medals in Munich, 1972.

But that’s a story for another day.

Be sure to follow The Roar as we look back on some of the most memorable moments in Olympic history – be they weird and wacky or brilliant and significant – and count down the days until the Rio Olympics opening ceremony.

The Roar’s countdown to the Rio Olympics

50 days to go: Australia’s first Olympian, Edwin Flack
49 days to go: Brazil capitulate at the 2012 Olympics
48 days to go: Blood in the water during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics
47 days to go: Daniel Carroll, the man who won rugby gold with Australia and America
46 days to go: Margaret Abbott – the golfer who didn’t know she had won gold
45 days to go: Where did all the amateurs go?
44 days to go: Australia’s oarsome foursome
43 days to go: When Korea stood as one
42 Days to go: Oscar Swahn, the oldest Olympian
41 days to go: Edith Bosch – the Olympian not known for her medals
40 days to go: Jane Saville’s heartbreaking Sydney Olympics
39 days to go: Herb Elliot dominates in Rome 1960
38 days to go: Teofilo Stevenson, the boxer who might have beaten Ali
37 days to go: Betty Cuthbert steals the show in Melbourne
36 days to go: Jesse Owens’ heroic performance in Berlin
35 days to go: Eric the Eel steals Sydney’s heart
34 days to go: What happened to Cassius Clay’s gold medal?
33 days to go: Australia’s equestrian brilliance at Barcelona
32 days to go: The Olympic sports which are no longer with us
31 days to go: Debbie Flintoff-King wins on the line
30 days to go: The dominance of basketball’s Dream Team
29 days to go: Nadia Comenaci scores gymnastics’ first-ever perfect score
28 days to go: The man who stopped for a duck
27 days to go: The upset of the Sydney Olympics
26 days to go: Murray Rose’s scintilating Melbourne performance
25 days to go: Greg Louganis’ heroic comeback win
24 days to go: Fencing turns to duelling in Paris
23 days to go: Dawn Fraser’s flag-stealing shenanigans
22 days to go: The most prolific Olympic competitor
21 days to go: Duncan Armstrong’s underdog win in Seoul
20 days to go: Johnny Weissmuller: A brilliant swimmer and Hollywood actor
19 days to go: Majorie Jackson – the Lithgow Flash
18 days to go: Larisa Latynina, the most successful female Olympian
17 days to go: Dimitrios Loundras, the child who won an Olympic medal
16 days to go: Roy Jones Jr is robbed of an Olympic gold
15 days to go: Shane Gould’s superstar performance in Munich
14 days to go: The Kookaburras finally fly to the top of the world
13 days to go: Matthew Mitcham’s historic dive
12 days to go: Even Olympians are prone to the odd fail
11 days to go: Abebe Bikila wins the Olympic marathon running in bare feet
10 days to go: Track cycling’s greatest rivalry
9 days to go: Kieran Perkins’ gold medal from lane eight
8 days to go: Sally Pearson’s awesome run in London
7 days to go: Mark Spitz’ perfect seven gold medals in ’72
6 days to go: Usain Bolt torches the field in Beijing
5 days to go: Michael Klim and Ian Thorpe help smash America’s 4x100m world record like a guitar
4 days to go: Tommie Smith and John Carlos’ defiant black power salute
3 days to go: Michael Phelps – the best to ever grace the Olympics
2 days to go: Cathy Freeman delivers with the weight of a country on her back
1 day to go: Ian Thorpe – Australia’s finest Olympian