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1950s / 1956 USSR-Hungary Water Polo Match
At the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, a water polo match between Hungary and the USSR turned into a blood bath--literally. The match, on December 6, was set against the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and saw Hungary defeat the USSR 4–0. The lasting image of the match was Hungarian star Ervin Zádor emerging from the pool with a large, bloody gash under his eye. He had been punched by Soviet player Valentin Prokopov. Tensions were already high between the Hungarian and Soviet water polo teams, as the Soviets had taken advantage of their political control of Hungary to study and copy the training methods and tactics of the 1952 Olympic champion Hungarians. On October 23, 1956, a demonstration by university students escalated into an uprising against the Soviet puppet government in Budapest. For a few days it appeared Hungary might free itself from the USSR's grasp. On November 1, however, Soviet tanks began rolling into Hungary. From November 4 to November 10 forces began suppressing the uprising with air strikes, artillery bombardments, and tank/infantry actions. The Hungarian water polo team was in a mountain training camp above Budapest. They were able to hear the gunfire and see smoke rising. With the Summer Olympics in Melbourne a month away, they were moved to Czechoslovakia to avoid being caught in the revolution. The players only learned the full extent of the uprising and the subsequent crackdown after arriving in Australia. By the start of the Olympics, the uprising had been suppressed. Many players saw the Olympics as a way to salvage national pride. "We felt we were playing not just for ourselves but for our whole country" said Zádor after the match. The "Blood In The Water" match was played in front of a partisan crowd bolstered with expatriate Hungarians as well as Australians and Americans who detested their Cold War Soviet rivals. Prior to the match, the Hungarians had evolved a strategy to taunt the Russians, whose language they had been forced to study in school. In the words of Zádor: "We had decided to try and make the Russians angry to distract them." From the opening whistle, kicks and punches were freely exchanged. At one point the Hungarian captain, Dezső Gyarmati, punched a Russian; it was caught on film. Meanwhile, Zádor scored two goals for the Hungarians, much to the delight of the crowd. With Hungary leading 4–0 in the final minutes, Zádor was marking Valentin Prokopov with whom he'd had verbal exchanges. Prokopov struck him, causing a gash to open. The blood comining with the water in the pool made it look like Zádor was bleeding to death. As he left the pool, his bleeding incited the crowd into a frenzy. Angry spectators jumped onto the concourse beside the water, shook their fists, shouted abuse, and spat at the Soviets. To avoid a riot, police entered the arena with one minute to go, declared the game over, and shepherded the crowd away. Pictures of Zádor's injuries were published around the world, leading to the "Blood in the Water" name, although reports that the water actually turned red were an exaggeration. Zádor said his only thought was whether he would be able to play the next match. Hungary went on to beat Yugoslavia 2–1 in the final to win their fourth Olympic gold medal. Zádor missed the match. After the event was completed, he and some of his teammates sought asylum in the West, rather than live in Hungary under a puppet pro-Soviet regime.